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NM Legislature Debates Tougher Rules, Penalities for Oil and Gas

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Drilling a single well in New Mexico's Permian Basin requires more than 11 million gallons of water per day in 2016, enough to fill 11 Olympic-size swimming pools, up from 1.3 million gallons in 2011.
Drilling a single well in New Mexico's Permian Basin requires more than 11 million gallons of water per day in 2016, enough to fill 11 Olympic-size swimming pools, up from 1.3 million gallons in 2011.
 By Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM - Producer, Contact
January 27, 2021

SANTA FE, N.M. -- The New Mexico Senate has agreed to take up a bill that would increase penalties for produced water spills by the oil and gas industry.

"Produced water" is the flowback from fracking, known to contain dangerous chemicals and heavy metals toxic to humans.

Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said spills from produced water occur as frequently as three times a week, and subsequently poison New Mexico's land, water and air.

"Currently this waste really is out of control," Feibelman contended. "We're seeing thousands of ponds and corroded steel tanks that store this waste."

If passed, the legislation also would ban oil and gas companies from using fresh water in most cases, and require them to disclose the chemical composition of produced water from spills and any proposed use outside the oil field.

Most of the state is experiencing severe drought conditions and Feibelman stressed groundwater and surface water supplies from rivers, streams and reservoirs need to be protected.

Introduced by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, Senate Bill 86 is scheduled to be heard tomorrow by the Senate Conservation Committee.

Feibelman stated currently, oil and gas companies are not required to take enough preventive measures to protect New Mexicans.

"Right now spills aren't illegal, you just have to report them and clean them up," Feibelman explained. "But we think disincentivizing the spills will help improve the care they're taking with equipment and with training and potential human error."

Oil and gas leaders in New Mexico, where the industry accounts for nearly one-third of the state's general fund revenues, have already raised concerns over President Joe Biden's executive order last week, which put a 60-day pause on new oil and gas leases on federal land.

The next sale of leases in New Mexico is scheduled after the two-month moratorium.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Rio Grande Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Public Lands/Wilderness, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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