Fracking requires a huge amount of water, a major concern in dry Western states that otherwise welcome the practice. But New Mexico thinks it can mitigate that problem by pushing oil companies to treat and recycle fracking waste water for use in agriculture — or even as drinking water.
State officials, with the help of the Environmental Protection Agency, are still working out the details. If they move forward with the strategy for fracking, also called hydraulic fracturing, other arid states may follow New Mexico’s lead.
“Oil and gas in New Mexico provide over a third of our general fund,” said Ken McQueen, who heads the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. “We have to be concerned we’re doing what’s necessary into the future to make sure this industry continues to be alive and vibrant.”
In addition to keeping a vital industry going, McQueen thinks the reclaimed waste water could be a boon to New Mexico farmers and ranchers who need water for their crops and herds. Factories could use it, and it might help revive parched wildlife habitat, he said. And even though the waste water is filled with salt and other minerals, it might even be treated and used for drinking.
In a typical month, the amount of waste water generated by the fracking process in New Mexico, the country’s third-largest producer of oil, would be enough to fill Elephant Butte, the state’s largest lake.
During fracking, oil companies inject fluid — a mixture of water and chemicals, plus sand — deep underground into rock formations to release oil and natural gas. For every barrel of oil fracking produces in New Mexico, it yields up to five barrels of “produced water” — a combination of the excess fracking water and water released from the rock.
Sometimes oil companies
reuse the waste water to bring up more oil, but in many cases they
dispose of it by pumping it deep underground using bore holes called
injection wells….Read more