State Proposing to Dump Toxic Wastewater into Streams, Drinking Water Supplies, and onto Crops

The climate crisis is ravaging New Mexico, leading to more severe droughts and water shortages.

Yet rather than ramp down fossil fuel production and rein in greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis, New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is instead looking to dump toxic oil and gas industry wastewater into streams, drinking waters, and on crops.

Claiming it would be “good for New Mexico,” the Governor’s new policy push is an extremely dangerous approach to regulating the fossil fuel industry and stands to leave New Mexico’s diminishing water supplies poisoned and unusable.

Worse, it only stands to compound the very climate crisis threatening New Mexico’s water in the first place.

With the Governor recently proclaiming that her environmental regulators work for industry, New Mexicans should be very worried.

A Frackwater Disaster

Driven by the boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, oil and gas extraction is surging in New Mexico.  The production of oil and gas leads to the creation of massive amounts of wastewater. Not only do companies produce wastewater in hydraulic fracturing, but they extract water from the deep geologic formations they’re tapping for oil and gas.

In southeast New Mexico, the amount of water used for fracking increased by more than 700% between 2011 and 2016. Recent estimates indicate the amount of fracking wastewater produced in the region will double in the coming years.

This water (often called “produced water”) is too toxic to treat.  It contains contaminants that can’t be removed, including radioactive materials, heavy metals, and extreme salts. Environmental regulations require industry to dispose of this wastewater deep underground to ensure it never reaches the surface. Even then, this disposal method has not been proven to be safe.

As oil and gas extraction has boomed in New Mexico, the oil and gas industry has faced rising costs and difficulties in disposing its wastewater.

Rather than slow or even stop production, industry has convinced Michelle Lujan Grisham Administration to simply reclassify their frackwater as “not toxic.” The industry’s strategy is to re-label their waste so they can more cheaply dump it into rivers, onto crops, and into drinking water supplies.

In 2019, the New Mexico Legislature, at the urging of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, passed a law that allows (but does not mandate) that fracking wastewater to be regulated.

This law has set the stage for the dumping of the oil and gas industry’s toxic waste into New Mexico’s water supplies. The State is now moving to adopt rules that would “regulate” oil and gas industry wastewater.

The aim of these new regulations? To condone the dumping of toxic fracking wastewater into water supplies.

Sadly, New Mexico’s Governor is fully throwing her support behind these plans.

New Regulations Portend a Public Health Scam

New Mexico is now moving to adopt rules that officials claim will “regulate” the oil and gas industry’s fracking wastewater.

In a series of public meetings scheduled this month and next, the state intends to solicit public input on the issue of using fracking industry wastewater “outside the oil and gas industry.” 

These public meetings and this process are nothing more than a front to justify dumping toxic oil and gas industry waste into New Mexico’s rivers and water supplies.

In fact, with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham proclaiming this week that she has told her environmental regulators that they work for the oil and gas industry, it seems clear that new regulations are a scheme to justify rolling back public health safeguards.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham needs to hear from you! Photo by Susan Montoya Bryan/AP.

Meetings are scheduled in October and November in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Carlsbad, Farmington, and Las Cruces. It’s critical that the public show up and oppose any regulation of fracking industry wastewater. 

The oil and gas industry’s toxic waste should not be regulated, it should be prohibited.  For New Mexico’s health, environment, and safety, we can’t let fracking wastewater be dumped into streams, drinking water supplies or on crops.

The oil and gas industry in New Mexico is trashing the climate right now. The surge in fracking, especially in the Greater Carlsbad Region of southeast New Mexico, is fueling a massive increase in climate pollution.

With the climate crisis impacting New Mexico more than most other states, the last thing the state needs is more oil and gas extraction.

As the youth of New Mexico have said, right now, New Mexico needs transition.

The fracking industry’s waste is too toxic to be treated. It needs to be banned, not condoned. We need to send the message to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham that prohibition, not regulation, is key to safeguarding the climate in New Mexico.

Contact the Governor today and tell her to back down from plans to dump toxic oil and gas wastewater into New Mexico’s streams, drinking water supplies, and on crops.

Tell Michelle Lujan Grisham that for New Mexico’s health, safety, and future, the state needs to transition from fossil fuels.

About the Author

Jeremy Nichols | Former Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians

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