New Mexico to study frack water for outside use


Wells scattered across the Permian Basin in southeast New Mexico extract thousands of barrels of oil every day. Last year, those same wells generated 42 billion gallons of produced water – a salty mixture that requires treatment before it can be used outside the oil field.

The New Mexico Environment Department announced it will partner with New Mexico State University to create a produced water research consortium to explore uses for the wastewater in and out of the oil and natural gas industry.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the research partnership Thursday at the Carlsbad Mayor’s Energy Summit.

New Mexico’s innovation in this area is and will continue to be the envy of other states,” Lujan Grisham said. “Turning this waste product into a commodity is good for preserving fresh water resources, good for compact requirements with other states, good for conservation purposes, good for local and county governments; it’s good for small and large producers, it’s good for agriculture. It’s good for New Mexico, and it represents an exciting leap forward.”

Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, generates more produced water than conventional drilling. The process extracts oil and gas by blasting water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break up rock layers. Massive amounts of water surface along with the oil and gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 168 to 210 gallons of produced water are created for every 42 gallons of oil. Water that isn’t reused for future fracking is injected into underground disposal wells.

Wastewater from oil and gas operations must be treated before it can be used for agriculture or manufacturing. The naturally-salty water can also contain trace amounts of fracking chemicals and metals from the ground.

The memorandum of understanding between NMSU and NMED said the consortium will be funded by private donations from the oil and natural gas industry, the water industry, non-governmental organizations and state and federal agencies.

NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said the research will inform policy decisions by filling scientific data gaps that exist when it comes to how oil and gas wastewater can be treated and transported for agricultural or municipal use.

“This is particularly true in the domain of produced water, where the understanding of reuse for purposes beyond hydraulic fracturing is lacking,” Arvizu said. “NMSU is excited to be at the very forefront of research in this area.”

The New Mexico Legislature passed House Bill 546, the Produced Water Act, earlier this year. The legislation, which took effect in July, encourages oil companies to recycle produced water instead of relying on New Mexico’s scarce fresh water for fracking operations. The law also allows industry operators and recycling companies to own the produced water.

Source: Albuquerque Journal