By Robert Sabie, Jr., NM WRRI Research Scientist and Sam Fernald NM WRRI Director
In January of this year, NM WRRI coordinated the launch of a project with researchers at New Mexico State University (NMSU), New Mexico Tech (NMT), and the University of New Mexico (UNM) to synthesize information on produced water science and management. This collaborative New Mexico Universities Produced Water Synthesis Project (NMUPWSP) is funded through state appropriations for a statewide water assessment. The overall goal of the project is to bring together experts in the areas of treatment technology, geochemistry, seismology, hydrogeology, policy, data management and analysis, stakeholder engagement, and system science to provide an independent understanding of the broad implications of produced water management decisions. The project is expected to continue for four years, contingent upon funding.
Oil and gas production yields the byproduct produced water, which often contains numerous chemicals both from the weathering of the geologic formation the water is in contact with and from the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. For every barrel of oil extracted, between 2 and 10 barrels of produced water also are extracted. Historically, the water was pumped back into deep saltwater disposal wells, but in recent years, advancements in treatment technologies are providing opportunities for reusing the produced water.
The currently funded projects of the NMUPWSP will further examine: treatment technologies used for economically treating produced water; toxicity of produced water in New Mexico; current trends in volumes of produced water; surface deformation and increasing seismicity related to injection well disposal; the legal and regulatory implications of the recent Produced Water Act; assessment of current available data; and, the use of a hybrid spatial system dynamics model to understand the interconnections within produced water management. NMUPWSP will work hand in hand with the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium, an effort led by NMSU and the NM Environment Department that is focused on produced water reuse outside of the oilfields and that will include funding from public and private sources. The oil and gas industry changes rapidly. NMUPWSP will consider fluctuations in the industry as part of our efforts to understand the complex nature of produced water management.
The March eNews from NM WRRI featured an article about the NM Tech work on induced seismicity. This month’s eNews includes a meet the researcher piece on Stephanie Russo Baca who is involved in the legal assessment of the Produced Water Act. We will continue to profile the NMUPWSP projects in future issues of eNews.