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August 2020 eNews

UNM Researchers Perform a Quantitative Analysis of Water Used and Wastewater Produced by the Oil and Gas Industry

UNM Researchers Perform a Quantitative Analysis of Water Used and Wastewater Produced by the Oil and Gas Industry

By Carolina Mijares, NM WRRI Program Manager

Each month NM WRRI is featuring an eNews article describing an individual focus of the ongoing New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPSWP).  The NMUPWSP seeks to support integrated research from different disciplines to show the impact of produced water on NM water budgets and it complements the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium led by NMSU and NMED. This month we are featuring research being carried out by Drs. Bruce Thomson and Janie Chermak at The University of New Mexico (UNM).

Dramatic changes in the relationship between oil, gas, and water havebeen the result of increasing development of unconventional shale resources. Some of the more notable changes include demand for large volumes of water required for hydraulic fracturing, increased volumes of produced water, new opportunities and technologies for treating and reusing produced water, and limitations of produced water disposal by injection into salt water disposal wells. It is, therefore, important to understand how future operations will affect water demand and produced water production by the oil and gas industry in New Mexico.

This study will produce a quantitative analysis of water used and wastewater produced by the oil and gas industry. The analysis will also determine trends in the relationship between oil, gas, and water that will identify water related challenges within the industry, and reveal strategies for improved water management to limit the industry’s impact on freshwater sources and limited produced water disposal facilities.

A large amount of data on the relationship between oil, gas, and water has been collected by New Mexico state agencies; however, because these databases are very large and difficult to access, little analysis of this data has been conducted to date. The objective of this project is to use existing data to address three questions: What are the sources and volumes of freshwater used for oil and gas development? How much produced water is generated by the industry, how is it managed, what fraction can be reused, and how is it disposed of? What are the trends in water use, wastewater production, and technological developments that may influence future industry water management strategies?

The New Mexico Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC) has submitted a companion proposal and the PRRC and UNM teams are collaborating on this effort. More details regarding the PRRC proposal’s goals and objectives will be provided in the following months. The research performed in this study will provide a better understanding of the technical, economic, social, and regulatory constraints to produced water treatment, reuse, and disposal. More so, it will identify gaps in water data that constrain industry and regulatory management programs.

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August 2020 eNews

Meet the Researcher, Julie Tsatsaros, Instructor/Visiting Associate Professor, New Mexico Highlands University

Meet the Researcher, Julie Tsatsaros, Instructor/Visiting Associate Professor, New Mexico Highlands University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month we are meeting Julie Tsatsaros, who is an instructor/visiting associate professor in the Forestry Department at New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU). She has been in her position for four years, and currently teaches several undergraduate and graduate courses focusing on environmental science, aquatic ecology, watershed management, surface water hydrology, lake ecology (limnology), environmental toxicology, and applied forestry research methods.

Within her teaching curriculum, she prioritizes integrating knowledge from numerous areas of study (water science, forestry, ecology, economics, social science, public policy, etc.) to give students a well-rounded view of resource management with the understanding that all problems are multi-dimensional.  This is key because in order to provide a sustainable solution to a problem all aspects must be examined and evaluated. According to Julie, she feels the most important aspect of her position is to provide students with a scientifically relevant and progressive educational understanding of the natural environment that will help improve the sustainable utilization and stewardship of land, water, and forest resources.

Tsatsaros received her BES degree with honors in environmental studies from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. She went on to obtain her MS degree in limnology from Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan.  She later earned her PhD in water resources from James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. Julie feels her time spent in New Mexico and abroad has strengthened her ability to present her students with real-world examples and practical experiences. Her work involvement with several New Mexico state agencies, nonprofits, consulting firms, and international agricultural research organizations also contributed to her diverse expertise, and allows her to provide her students with actual case studies to assist them in formulating new solutions to natural resource issues.

In addition to her teaching obligations, Julie oversees several master students as a research committee member for the Forestry Department at NMHU, and is also the Graduate Research Coordinator for the Master of Science in Natural Science Concentration in Environmental Science and Management. She is additionally a forestry faculty representative member on the NMHU Graduate Council, and a faculty board member to the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance. Within these roles, Tsatsaros effectively monitors the results of reports, designs new research procedures, seeks and secures funding opportunities, improves student enrollment, increases community engagement, and other vital tasks.

Recently, Tsatsaros served as a faculty mentor for the NMHU Alliance for Minority Participation, which assisted in awarding scholarships provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to underrepresented undergraduate conservation management students in the Forestry Department.  Students mentored by Julie performed monitoring and assessment research for a local nonprofit organization on water quality issues in the perennial streams located in northern New Mexico.  This research was used to contribute to watershed monitoring and assessment for the New Mexico Environment Department Surface Water Quality Bureau, and Region Six of the Environmental Protection Agency.

At present, Tsatsaros is a researcher on the Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology grant funded by the NSF.  This five-year $5 million grant extends through 2024, and is a partnership with NMHU Forestry Department, the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute, and New Mexico State University’s John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center. While the main goal of the grant is to improve forest health and resiliency, Julie states that her main focus is to help increase NMHU student retention and competency through integrated field-based curriculum and professional research, and help pave their way in becoming future forest managers and researchers.

Tsatsaros’s latest work was published in 2018 for the open access journal Water, entitled, Indigenous Water Governance in Australia: Comparisons with the United States and Canada.  A link to this article can be found here. In addition to her most recent study, Tsatsaros and her colleagues currently have two research manuscripts in various stages of publication that focus on integrating biophysical and social science related research methods to improve coastal water resource conditions.  One is to be featured in a special edition of the Marine Pollution Bulletin in October 2020, entitled, Supporting Community Led Water Quality Monitoring in River Basins Adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. The other was submitted to the Journal of Environmental Management in April 2020, entitled, Improving Water Quality in the Wet Tropics, Australia: A Conceptual Framework and Case Study.

Next year, Tsatsaros plans to work as an Aquatic Ecologist Professor at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in the Life Sciences Department at the UWI Mona Campus in Kingston, Jamaica. Once there, Julie has stated she will be promoting the possibility of extensive collaborations between NMHU, other New Mexico universities, and educational institutions to potentially create new learning experiences and research opportunities for students in New Mexico and the Caribbean. In this regard, she plans to continue providing both a challenging and rewarding education for all her students, and inspire them through motivation and enthusiasm to continue their goals of becoming future resource practitioners and managers.

Tsatsaros’s future goals consist of continuing her current efforts with multidisciplinary student and community groups by assisting with outreach, extension activities, and education to help them identify their ideal environmental outcomes and how to obtain them. According to Julie, she hopes to assist in bridging connections between research, education, professional training, and business expertise to vastly improve social, economic, and environmental issues that are both realistic and implementable.

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eNews July 2020

NMSU and NM WRRI Researchers Develop Framework for a Hybrid Modeling Analysis of Produced Water Impacts in New Mexico

By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

Each month NM WRRI is featuring an eNews article describing an individual research focus of the ongoing New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP), a state-funded project with investigators from NMSU, UNM, NMT, and NM WRRI. This month we are featuring research being performed by New Mexico State University Research Associate Professor Saeed Langarudi, NM WRRI Research Scientist Robert Sabie, and NM WRRI Director Sam Fernald to develop a conceptual framework for a hybrid, multi-method dynamic simulation analysis of the impact of produced water on the water budgets and overall viability of local communities in New Mexico.

As a potential alternative water source, produced water presents unique opportunities and challenges that need to be understood. More specifically, it is important to understand how produced water relates to regional water budgets and the future viability of New Mexico’s local communities. Nevertheless, produced water is a multifaceted phenomenon with complex hydrologic, social, economic, and environmental implications. To better understand such implications, the research project entitled, Development of a multi-method dynamic spatial simulation model: exploring opportunities for produced water reuse seeks to develop sophisticated analytical and computational tools that take such complexities into account.

Computational and systems sciences such as system dynamics, as well as agent-based and geospatial modeling, have advantages and disadvantages that make them suitable for specific problems. Yet, combining these methods in order to harness the full potential of each method, thus addressing each method’s shortcomings, is an area to explore. System dynamics helps to identify key feedback loops that drive the dynamics of a system. However, it does not take the heterogeneity of a system into account. For example, the geographical distribution of oil wells, and how each produced water volume and quality at each well change over time, would not be effectively addressed in a system dynamics study. On the other hand, agent-based and geospatial modeling methods address the heterogeneity of a problem but obscure the feedback links between components of a system.

The problem of produced water and its impact on viability of local communities is complex at different levels of analysis while there are significant interactions between these levels. The distribution (geospatial modeling) of oil and water wells changes over time depending on the decisions (agent-based modeling) of the oil producers, while decisions of the oil producers depend on the components of the system (e.g. water, wealth, treatment technology, etc.). Changes in the accumulation of produced water, and ultimately the movement of produced water, depend on the geographical distribution of the wells (system dynamics). Here, we have a very complex feedback system not only at the system level but also within and between different levels of analysis. One example of what the model could examine is the availability of treated produced water for reuse in the oil and gas industry – where is the water, where does the water need to go, what is the volume of available, and what is the water quality?

A goal of this project is to ultimately produce a white paper and peer-reviewed journal article which reports the state of the art in multi-method modeling approaches in hydrosocial studies as well as the conceptual framework based on the literature, interviews with subject matter experts, focus groups, and group model building sessions. This framework will set the stage for future work in which the research team will build a functional multi-method model.

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eNews July 2020

NMSU Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Food-Waste-to-Biofuel Byproduct for Wastewater Treatment

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

As the world’s population grows larger, the need for clean water, food, and energy is rising. Food production requires energy, and accounts for a large portion of global freshwater consumption. Due to the amount of energy and freshwater involved in food production, food waste is particularly important to resource management. Currently, the common practice of landfilling wet food waste leads to methane, carbon dioxide, and liquid waste that contaminates soil, groundwater, and rivers. Fortunately, food waste is a readily available biowaste resource. The use of food waste for biofuel production and resource recovery would not only reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but it would also help solve water scarcity issues and environmental challenges.

In addition to the advantages of using food waste as a feedstock for biofuel production, char (a byproduct derived from the food-waste-to-biofuel conversion), can be used to adsorb heavy metals in waste water treatment. Commercial adsorbents are often not cost effective. Using food waste char instead of commercial adsorbents could improve local water quality, and manage local food waste while generating an alternative source of energy.

In 2019, Hengameh Bayat, was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to study food waste conversion to biofuel, and evaluate the feasibility of using treated char as an adsorbent material for wastewater treatment. The project is titled, Wastewater Treatment Using Food Waste Char Obtained from Hydrothermal Liquefaction as a Low-Cost Adsorbent Material. Bayat, a PhD student at New Mexico State University’s Chemical and Materials Engineering department, worked on this project under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Catherine E. Brewer.

The food waste for the project’s experiment was collected from NMSU’s dining hall, Taos Restaurant. After mixing the food waste with deionized water, the mixture was blended into a slurry. For each experiment a stainless steel Parr batch reactor was then loaded with the food waste slurry and heated. Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) uses hot (250-375°C) compressed water to convert waste materials into energy-dense bio-crude oil, non-condensable gases, an aqueous phase, and HTL-char. The HTL-char was separated from the mixture to be used for experiments.

Preliminary results showed that food waste HTL-char has significantly higher lead adsorption capacity compared to commercial activated carbon, and food waste-derived HTL-char may be an effective adsorbent for the remediation of metal contaminated water.

As Bayat explains, “this research provides information about downstream energy recovery of food waste, and the capability HTL-char has for wastewater treatment. Remediation of heavy metals like lead and copper from water is not only important for animal and human health, but using HTL-char from biowaste would also be economical and environmentally friendly.”

Bayat presented this project at the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference, and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Annual International Meeting.

Bayat received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Arak University, and a master’s degree from the Material and Energy Research Center at the University of Tehran in her home country of Iran. During her time at the University of Tehran she worked on converting microalgae to value-added products like bio-crude oil as a fuel and biochar as an adsorbent for wastewater treatment. Bayat is working toward her PhD in Chemical Engineering, and would like to pursue a career in academia. She is interested in converting waste materials to value-added products to use in water conservation and remediation.

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eNews July 2020

New Mexico Tech Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Study Antibiotic Resistant Pathogens in Surface Water

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Antibiotic resistance is an increasing concern around the world. The New Mexico Department of Health has determined four cases of antibiotic resistant infections with no known health-care source; the only commonality between all the patients are their counties of residence, which are connected by the Pecos River. Human activity can lead to the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) throughout natural reservoirs and surface waters. Surface waters, like the Pecos River, have become a topic of human health research due to the fact that these aquatic environments can expose resident bacteria to antibiotic resistant bacteria that could potentially transfer these determinants through horizontal gene transfer. The Pecos River is a potential source that harbors Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), an emerging group of antibiotic resistant pathogens. CREs are commonly observed in clinical settings but can be found in the environment. As of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun tracking CREs. New Mexico has had a rapid increase in carbapenem-resistant infections, including pathogens carrying the VIM gene.

In June, Kasandra Velarde was awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant for her project entitled, Exploring surface water as the reservoir of CRE infecting patients in SE New Mexico. Under the direction of Dr. Linda DeVeaux, the study aims to provide insight in the dissemination of carbapenem-resistance genes in the Pecos River, specifically the VIM gene, which could potentially provide a correlation between clinical and environmental reservoirs.

Water samples from the Pecos River will be taken from different sites within three counties throughout the course of summer 2020. The environmental water samples will be filtered and total DNA will be extracted. DNA will be screened for the presence of the VIM gene. If VIM positive, sequence analysis and purification will be performed and samples will go through whole genome sequencing. The analysis of mobile genetic elements and comparing the relatedness to each other and to clinical isolates from the New Mexico Department of Health will be conducted.

According to Velarde, “New Mexico has very limited data on the presence of environmental CREs that harbor antibiotic resistance genes. Four patients from neighboring counties were infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria with no identifiable point of contact. We hope to provide more information on how CRE travels between communities could contribute to the dissemination of these genes. This study can provide a link between ARGs in a clinical setting and an environmental setting, which can be used to understand how to control or predict potential outbreaks of CRE infections.”

Velarde, who has grown up in New Mexico, is a student at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. She plans on graduating with a degree in Biology and moving into a graduate program in Biology focused in microbiology. After obtaining a master’s degree, Velarde’s goal is to become a researcher in the private sector or in a government position, and possibly obtaining a PhD in her field.

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eNews July 2020

Meet the Researcher, Antonio Lara, Associate Professor, New Mexico State University

By Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month we are meeting Antonio Lara, who is currently an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Antonio avidly researches how to use clay pellets to effectively reduce uranium and heavy metal concentration levels in contaminated water sources. According to Lara, his Chemistry 100 class is used to help students gain a passion for the sciences, have more confidence in their learning, and build upon fundamentals to help them succeed. He regularly challenges himself to develop new and exciting strategies to make chemistry more appealing to his students, and show them that anyone can excel when they put their mind to it.

Lara received his BS (1972) and MS (1977) from NMSU in Math Education, and Organic Chemistry, respectively. He returned to NMSU to complete his PhD in Analytical Chemistry in 1990. Once his education was completed, he had the opportunity to become a Postdoctoral Researcher at Michigan State University in 1991 working under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Pinnavaia, who was an experienced chemist who specialized in clay materials.

Currently, Lara receives funding every year from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) to help research the process of converting non-potable water to potable water using clay pellets. Lara’s research on clays provides a cost effective and sustainable method for removing uranium and heavy metals from drinking water due to their cation exchange capabilities. The sorption capacity of the clay pellets is large enough to not only sorb non-bonded uranium, but also sorb uranium directly from contaminated water. As a result, clay pellets as well as powders are effectively able to reduce uranium concentrations from 15 times the Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level to non-detectable limits. While his research is still ongoing, water is currently being trucked out to the Navajo Nation to help aid in the crisis intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lara hopes to be able to contribute more to the cause as soon as possible through his research and findings. Antonio’s latest publication is entitled, Natural clays with an inherent uranium component that nevertheless sequester uranium from contaminated water. This article is one of two that illustrate the current status of his clay pellet research, and two other publications are currently in progress.

Antonio currently mentors students at all grade levels and strives to teach them the value of their research. Several of his students have been funded by the Student Water Research Grant Award program offered by NM WRRI. Moticha Franklin is his latest student to be funded in 2019 for research entitled, Surface Area of a Local Clay Material to Elucidate Uranium Abatement for Potable New Mexico Water Management. More information regarding her research can be found here. Three of Lara’s students, Moticha Franklin, Joshua Herrera, and Jeremy Jones,  successfully presented posters showcasing their research at the 64th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Lara has several important future goals for reducing pollution and advancing science literacy.  Pollution is a major problem in the borderland region, and Antonio believes a large portion of it is due to soot production, and the amount of car travel at the border. To assist with issues related to soot, Lara developed an early build of a clay kiln in Juarez, Mexico, that did not pollute the air by creating black smoke. By performing further research and publishing his methods, he hopes to provide effective alternatives to combat air pollution and enhance the lives of many people who suffer from poor air quality. He would also like to set up a workshop to better inform the public about their personal responsibilities to the environment, what they can do to clean it up, and teach them that water is a precious resource that must be protected regardless of cost.

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eNews July 2018

NMT Biology Grad Student Examining Antibiotic Resistance Genes in Wastewater

New Mexico Tech graduate student in biology Angelica Cave recently landed a grant from the New Mexico Water Resource Research Institute to support her study of antibiotic resistant bacteria in wastewater treatment.

Her proposal is titled “Antibiotic resistance in wastewater treatment: the effects of different treatment methods on the differential survival of antibiotic resistant pathogens over non-resistant bacteria through the treatment process of two different wastewater treatment plants.”

Cave, along with her advisor Dr. Linda DeVeaux, will collect and examine samples taken from in-coming sewage, the aerobic digester, and the treated wastewater, as well as from the channel the wastewater is discharged into, both upstream and downstream from the Socorro Wastewater Treatment Plant. In addition, collaborators in South Dakota will be providing similar samples for analysis from the Rapid City Wastewater treatment plant, as both areas have similar “interference” from agriculture and livestock, but slightly different treatment processes during the summer months.

“I hope to find out if bacteria carrying antibiotic resistance genes have a better chance of surviving the treatment processes used in the two wastewater treatment plants,” she said. “We’ll be looking primarily at two panels of genes – 7 pathogenicity genes and 10 genes for resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics.”

Cave is taking samples from untreated wastewater, and the aerobic digester‒where the organic material gets broken down and is the most biologically significant step in the treatment process‒as well as treated wastewater. She will determine the presence of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) and virulence genes (VGs). The proportion of bacteria carrying ARGs will determine whether the presence of ARGs provides increased survivability to bacteria in the two treatment plants. Cave will take samples multiple times in the next year to see temporal changes, which will allow insight into the dynamics of ARBs in the environment.

Once samples are collected, Cave will conduct two studies: Firstly, she will extract genomic DNA from the original environmental samples and test the DNA for the VGs and ARGs. Secondly, she will culture Gram-negative bacilli from samples showing the genes of interest, to isolate the bacteria that contain those genes. Additionally, she will test isolates of interest to determine if they are resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics.

Cave said this project will provide new information about the possible connections between antibiotic resistance genes and antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment and wastewater treatment practices. She said this is very important because a link between the spread of ARB and ARGs and wastewater treatment plants has long been suspected and, although it has not been confirmed definitively, there are studies that support this theory, and so more research is greatly needed. Antibiotic resistant infections are becoming an increasing threat to public health and safety, which makes this research timely and important.

Cave said this project has the potential to benefit the Socorro community by providing insight into the presence of antibiotic resistance in the local surface water, which may lead to better antibiotic stewardship practices in the local clinics. She said this sort of community project can raise awareness in our local community and foster further relationships between NMT and the Socorro community.

“Without this grant, it’d be difficult for our lab to afford everything we need for this project,” she said. “I’m really excited to have the opportunity to present this research at the NM WRRI research conference in October.”

An Albuquerque native, Cave started her college career at Central New Mexico Community College. There, she took prerequisite courses for the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program offered at CNM, which exposed her to math and science for the first time.

“I fell in love with biology and chemistry,” she said. “I decided on New Mexico Tech because it had a very similar feel to CNM, with the smaller class sizes and sense of community.”

She earned her bachelor’s in biology at NMT and decided to stay for a master’s degree. She is interested in pursuing a career in public health, specializing on the microbiology of how antibiotic resistance moves through the environment.

“It’s a big unknown,” she said. “We don’t know how wastewater treatment factors into the spread of ARGs in the environment, and I’d like to pursue that question further.”