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State regulators will consider ‘produced water’ reuse rule next week • Source New Mexico

A week before hearings that could lead to new state regulations on the reuse of treated toxic wastewater from oil and gas operations, environmental and frontline groups are rallying in opposition.

The New Mexico Environment Department’s Water Protection Division wants that setting rules on new ways in which water is reused after it mixes with waste. The state says this would help prevent potentially harmful water from entering waterways leading to people, animals and their environment.

The state said its request to the Water Quality Control Commission could resolve issues between the federal government, and that the proposed rule explicitly prohibits “any discharge of untreated produced water to groundwater or surface water” in New Mexico.

Environment Department Deputy Secretary Sydney Lienemann said the federal government could now grant a discharge permit because it has priority over the discharge of treated or untreated produced water into surface waters and that this new rule puts that power back in the hands of local officials.

“This rule closes this loophole so that the New Mexico Environment Department and the Water Quality Control Commission will be the ones to decide when and if treated produced water can be discharged,” Lienemann said. “We see that loophole in the federal government’s law as a huge potential problem.”

Opponents of the state proposal held a rally outside the New Mexico Legislature on Monday, arguing that produced water threatens the health and safety of New Mexicans.

Reyes DeVore (Jemez), mother and program director of Pueblo Action Alliance, said there are no known technologies that can completely rid the water of toxic contaminants.

“This further endangers the health of the community,” DeVore said.

Mario Atencio is a plaintiff in one court case The state is accused of failing to enforce pollution laws, allowing more oil and gas production and failing to limit pollution that discriminates against indigenous peoples, youth and frontline communities.

Atencio said the proposed rule is “an example of institutional environmental racism.”

“Nobody informed the people on the ground, the Diné people,” Atencio said. “That is contrary to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Norm Gaume is a retired engineer and expert witness hired by New Energy Economy, which is asking the Commission to reject the rule.

“This nasty stuff is highly toxic, highly toxic, radioactive waste,” Gaume said. ‘It’s not water. It’s a waste. And I find it insulting that the New Mexico Environment Department would propose a rule to address this nonsense and call it the “water reuse rule.” It’s not water, folks.’

Discharge permit required

Lienemann disagreed with that assessment, saying the rule would expressly prohibit the discharge of treated or untreated produced water.

“That means not a drop of this water touches the ground in New Mexico,” Lienemann said. “This rule ensures that we have the authority to say, ‘Zero discharge.’”

It would require someone to have a discharge permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department before water enters groundwater or surface water.

If the state determines that there will be no discharge to groundwater or surface water, the rule would authorize the agency to initiate small-scale projects involving the controversial produced water.

Under this rule, environmental officials can approve wastewater reuse studies as long as there is no connection between the water studied and a community’s drinking water.

Water Protection Division Director John Rhoderick said the study would be intended “to see if at any point the science says there is a safe and acceptable way to use it for irrigating golf courses, or whatever .”

“We need science, we can’t get science without experiments,” he said.

“These pilots are so extensive that they will not be stopped without our knowledge and consent,” Rhoderick said. “If there is one in operation that we have not approved, we will exercise our regulatory authority to shut it down.”

He said he believes the Environment Department will have enough inspectors with the scientific knowledge to regulate experimental facilities. He said his division is adding enforcement personnel “to look at our existing workload, plus these testing projects.”

Before anyone can build a demonstration project or industrial application using treated produced water, the rule requires that he or she first submit a letter of intent.

Mariel Nanasi, an attorney and executive director of New Energy Economy, said the rule proposal needs more work.

“This rule is not ready for primetime,” Nanasi said. “It does not rely on credible scientific data or the best available scientific information, as required by law.”

Jodi McGinnis Porter, spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said Monday that the governor’s office “supports science-based water reuse and our record of fighting for clean water speaks for itself.”

Alejandria Lyons of the NM No False Solutions Coalition said their group became involved in the regulations because “produced water” is actually toxic fracking waste that would be used in agriculture and replenish the aquifer.

“We are completely against using dirty oil and gas for anything and opening the door to pilot projects,” Lyons said.

McGinnis Porter said the governor’s office has not met with the coalition about the proposed rule.