New Mexico’s Proposal: Sustainable Reuse of Fracking Wastewater

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New Mexico’s Environmental Department leads an innovative initiative to create regulations for reusing oil and gas drilling byproduct wastewater within a major US production zone.

This ambitious proposal, announced by the Environment Department, seeks the approval of the Water Quality Control Commission for formal discussions on the regulations. 

Scheduled public hearings could commence as early as April, marking a pivotal step in the state’s efforts to address water scarcity amid the demands of its oil-dependent economy.

The state, ranking second in oil production after Texas, confronts freshwater depletion due to water-intensive fracking practices. The proposal aims to repurpose treated oil-field water for industrial applications, emphasizing a “closed loop” system initially, preventing any discharge to safeguard environmental safety.

John Rhoderick, the Environment Department’s water protection division director, stressed the need to protect fresh groundwater sources from overuse and contamination. The focus is on maintaining these resources as they are not naturally replenished.

Existing Water Reuse Practices in New Mexico

new-mexico's-proposal-sustainable-reuse-of-fracking-wastewater
New Mexico’s Environmental Department leads an innovative initiative to create regulations for reusing oil and gas drilling byproduct wastewater within a major US production zone.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s complementary legislative proposal seeks a $500 million appropriation for a strategic water source development initiative. This project aims to utilize treated water from oil and natural gas drilling, catering to emerging industries like microchip manufacturing and hydrogen fuel production.

While critics express concerns that the plan might stimulate increased petroleum drilling, Rhoderick highlighted existing water reuse practices in New Mexico, citing the reuse of about 40% of treated residential wastewater for various purposes like irrigating parks and roadways.

The proposed regulations evolve from 2019 state legislation encouraging the oil and gas industry to prioritize water treatment and recycling over-reliance on natural aquifers. 

The collaboration behind these rules involved a public-private research consortium, notably anchored by New Mexico State University and supported by industry giants like Chevron, ExxonMobil, NGL Energy Partners, and Tallgrass Energy.

These initiatives underscore a proactive approach towards sustainable water management in a state grappling with water scarcity concerns, aiming to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental conservation.

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