Thursday, March 31, 2016

Update – Produced Water as a Resource in Southeastern New Mexic

Update – Produced Water as a Resource in Southeastern New Mexico by Bob Sabie, NM Water Resources Research Institute In January 2016, the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI) started a six-month project in Lea and Eddy Counties focused on produced water and its potential as an alternative to fresh water resources. The goal of this project is to provide decision makers with improved information on produced water in Southeastern New Mexico. This includes information on quality and volumes, as well as information on the regulatory framework, treatment technologies and costs, and potential uses outside of the oil and gas industry. The need to examine non-traditional water sources such as produced water is due to the limited supply of both surface and groundwater in Southeastern New Mexico and because there is a considerable volume of produced water being reinjected into disposal wells. Drought and growing demand for water has added additional stress to local water systems. Agriculture, potash mining, and oil and gas consume large quantities of fresh water. Water quality thresholds for these uses are often less than that of municipal drinking water. Thus, the question arises of whether produced water can be economically treated to a level that meets threshold requirements for some of the largest non-municipal consumers. If so, the volumes of freshwater used by these consumers can be offset, extending the life of freshwater aquifers used for drinking water. In the short time since the project began, the research group has made great progress in achieving the project goals. In January, the research team met with community members at both the Lea and Eddy County Extension Offices. The attendees provided the team with information on similar studies conducted in 2003 and illustrated some of the known challenges for using produced water within their communities. Nearly 4,000 water quality data points have been added to a produced water quality database. The addition of these data improves the understanding of the spatial distribution of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) by location and formation. TDS information can be used to better estimate the economic feasibility of treating the water for particular purposes using a decision support tool. Treatment technologies are available to clean produced water and are being utilized in some states such as California; in New Mexico, regulations have not yet been established to use reclaimed produced water outside of the oil and gas industry. The result is that produced water in New Mexico has three potential fates: 1) injection into a deep disposal well; 2) evaporation from a lined evaporation pond; or, 3) treatment to a desired level and reused within the oil and gas industry. The regulatory issues of who owns the water, who is liable for the water, and who regulates the water after it is treated are still being addressed. The research group is holding meetings with state agencies and providing information from this project to assist further decision making regarding produced water. Two rounds of community meetings have been held in Hobbs and Carlsbad since the beginning of the project, and there will be one more round of meetings in late May or early June. These meetings are open to the public and those interested in water planning are encouraged to attend. The meetings will be advertised in local newspapers and by the NMSU Extension Offices. If you would like to be updated on the produced water project, please contact Robert Sabie, Jr. at to get your email added to the email list.

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