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Guardians Calls on New Mexico to Put Brakes on Proposed Fracking Waste Rules
“Under the guise of protecting health and safety, New Mexico’s regulators are actually easing oversight of the oil and gas industry’s toxic waste,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “These new rules stand to leave New Mexico more vulnerable than ever to the dangers of fracking’s toxic, untreatable waste.”
In a pre-hearing statement, Guardians called on the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission to reject a request from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division to amend regulations governing the oil and gas industry’s “produced water.”
Far from water, the term “produced water” refers to fluids created during hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas production. These fluids contain heavy metals, salts, radioactive substances, and other chemicals. This “water” is so contaminated that it can’t be treated to be made safe or healthy.
In spite of this, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division has called on the Oil Conservation Commission to adopt rules that would allow oil and gas companies to handle, transport, and even use “produced water” in the drilling and fracking of wells.
While the proposed rules claim to protect health and the environment, they would impose no actual standards or criteria to ensure any degree of real protection for peoples’ health and the environment.
The proposed regulations even presume that oil and gas companies will be allowed to discharge and dump their “produced water” onto land and into streams.
On July 30, 2020, the Oil Conservation Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on whether to adopt the new regulations. In its filing, WildEarth Guardians called on the Commission to suspend its hearing or adopt more stringent and enforceable rules. In a pre-hearing statement, Guardians staff attorney Daniel Timmons wrote:
“[I]nstead of adopting scientifically-based regulations with specific, measurable standards and practices to protect public health, the environment, and fresh water resources from the serious threat posed by produced water, OCD’s [Oil Conservation Division’s] proposal simply maintains the division’s current hands-off, de-regulatory approach to managing the largest source of toxic waste in the state. OCD’s bare-bones effort to promulgate tooth-less rules falls so dramatically short of the legislature’s objective for these rules that its rulemaking effort must be suspended.”
The Oil Conservation Division’s request for new rules is the first of what may be a series of rules aimed at easing regulation of the oil and gas industry’s “produced water” in New Mexico. Although billed as an effort to “regulate” the industry’s waste, state officials have confirmed the initiative aims to let companies dump and discharge “produced water” outside oil and gas producing areas.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has prominently signaled her support for rollbacks, claiming that letting companies dump and discharge their toxic waste onto land and into waters would be “good for New Mexico.”
“Making it easier for the oil and gas industry to dump its toxic waste would be the worst for New Mexico,” said Nichols. “Not only does it stand to incentivize more fracking, which will only fuel the climate crisis, it threatens to contaminate the state’s irreplaceable fresh water.”
In the fall of 2019, WildEarth Guardians posted a series of billboards encouraging the public to speak out for clean water and against Governor Lujan Grisham’s efforts to let the oil and gas industry dump and discharge its fracking waste.
“Rather than help New Mexico transition away from reliance on oil and gas, these proposed rules would further entrench and enshrine the industry, jeopardizing the state’s health, environment, and its ability to confront the climate crisis,” said Nichols. “The oil and gas industry’s toxic waste isn’t safe or healthy, we hope the Oil Conservation Commission does the right thing and puts the brakes on this reckless initiative.”