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Striking a Balance: Evaluating New Mexico's Oil-Industry Wastewater

Oil-industry wastewater treatment

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has unveiled a pioneering plan to treat and recycle oil-industry wastewater, aiming to combat water scarcity and attract diverse industries to the arid state. However, this ambitious proposal is generating controversy, with environmental activists expressing reservations about untested technologies, potential increased fracking, and perceived industry advantages. This article delves into the key arguments on both sides of this contentious issue.

The Governor's Initiative

Governor Lujan Grisham's initiative centers around funding the treatment and recycling of wastewater generated by oil and natural gas drilling. The plan involves purchasing treated water sourced from drilling byproducts or underground saltwater aquifers. The dual objective is to safeguard freshwater sources and provide recycled water for industrial uses, thereby luring businesses ranging from microchip manufacturers to hydrogen fuel producers.

Environmental Activists' Concerns

Critics of the governor's proposal, including environmental and social-justice groups, contend that the plan might inadvertently encourage more water-intensive fracking for oil and natural gas. The worry is that such a strategy could pose environmental risks, worsen pressure on the state's underground aquifers, and potentially favor the interests of the oil and gas industry.

Mariel Nanasi, leading New Energy Economy, argues that the initiative primarily serves oil and gas producers in addressing wastewater disposal challenges, facilitating continued petroleum extraction. Julia Bernal, heading Pueblo Action Alliance, interprets the proposal as an effort to secure water supplies for hydrogen production, underscoring the need for increased investment in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Hydrogen Production & Climate Impact

A pivotal aspect of the debate revolves around hydrogen production. While hydrogen can be produced with minimal greenhouse gas emissions using renewable energy sources like solar and wind, the majority of today's hydrogen is derived from natural gas, contributing to climate change. Bernal's advocacy for greater investments in wind and solar reflects a broader concern for prioritizing sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives.

Government's Perspective on Oil-Industry Wastewater

State Environment Department Secretary James Kenney outlined the administration's plan to the state Senate, proposing a $500 million investment over two years to encourage private investment in water-treatment and desalination infrastructure. The suggested regulatory framework aims to govern the reuse of oil-industry wastewater and desalination of naturally occurring brine.

As New Mexico tackles water scarcity and explores innovative solutions, Governor Lujan Grisham's proposal sparks a vigorous debate. Achieving a balance between economic development, environmental sustainability, and local community concerns poses a significant challenge. The ultimate outcome hinges on effectively addressing the valid concerns raised by environmental activists, while ensuring that the initiative contributes positively to the state's long-term water management and economic objectives.


BUSINESS - SFGATE (January 22, 2024). New Mexico governor proposes $500M to treat fracking wastewater


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