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  • Defend NM Water

The Wastewater Reuse rules proposed by New Mexico Environment Department not based on science

Updated: May 7

New Mexico Environment Department (NMED)’s proposed Wastewater Reuse Rule 23-84 (R) pending before the Water Quality Control Commission (“WQCC”)  allows for fracking waste reuse in “demonstration projects” or “industrial projects” for “agriculture, irrigation, potable water supplies, aquifer recharge, industrial processes or environmental restoration” without delineating any scientific water quality or treatment standards to safeguard public health and the environment.

In a 2023 technical report titled "Characterization of produced water in the Permian Basin for potential beneficial use"  co-authored by, Dr. Pei Xu, who is the Associate Director for Research and Technology at the Produced Water Research Consortium Dr. Xu and her colleagues write:

“Currently, there is very little data or other information regarding NORM [Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material] in Permian Basin PW [Produced water]. Nine of the PW temporal samples were analyzed for NORM. Ra-226 (half-life of 1,500 years) and Ra-228 (half-life of 5.75 years) were chosen because they are the most abundant (Burden et al., 2016). The results show the total Ra (Ra-226 + Ra-228) has an average level of 195 pCi/L (pico-curies/L), which is much higher than the EPA regulatory limit of 5 pCi/L for drinking water.” (Emphasis supplied) See, p. 12, 29.  

Not only is that level of radiation significantly higher than the EPA's limit for drinking water, it is also three times higher than the level at which the EPA characterizes water as radioactive waste - 60 pCi/L.

In another paper co-authored by Dr. Xu the researchers found that:

“Up to date, there are limited studies and no established tools to monitor these unknown transformation compounds and understand the toxicity effects of the chemical interactions during reuse applications.”

and further:

“[T]he risks associated with reusing treated PW still require intensive research. Given PW is a new, non-traditional water source, and the water chemistry is complex with naturally occurring constituents and chemical additions during the well stimulation process, water quality standards for different reuse applications should consider the known and unknown chemicals and toxicological characteristics of PW and treated PW. Intensive research is needed to provide scientific and technical knowledge to establish science-based regulations and develop well-informed permitting programs for the safe reuse of treated PW outside of the O&G fields.

More simply, Dr. Xu and her colleagues found in 2022 that there is limited information and no tools capable of measuring the toxicity effects of compounds formed through chemical reactions during the fracking process, and the risks associated with reusing treated fracking waste still require intensive research. According to Dr. Xu that research is necessary in order to “establish science-based regulations and develop well-informed permitting programs.” 

And yet NMED and the Consortium have prematurely proposed regulation anyways, simply dispensing with the necessity to include water quality or treatment standards.

This is contrary to law which requires the Water Quality Control Commission’s .consideration of “all relevant factors including evidence contrary to the agency’s position.” An agency record is deficient if the agency ignored relevant factors it should have considered in making its decision.

Instead political calculations seem to have taken precedence. As Norm Gaume, NM Water Advocate and former Director of the NM Interstate Stream Commission put it “This is a political Rule, not a scientific Rule. It does not protect the environment, public health, safety, and welfare. Premature initiation of Rule promulgation was a political decision, not a sound or credible regulatory one.” 

The law establishing the “Produced Water Act,” HB 546, states that the WQCC “shall adopt water quality standards for surface and ground waters of the state based on credible scientific data and other evidence appropriate under the Water Quality Act” and further, that “The commission shall consider [] the best available scientific information.” 

In this case NMED has failed to consider the best available scientific information.



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