Nov. 17–Chanting “We won’t drink your fracking water” and “You can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil,” about two dozen members of Red Nation and allied environmentalists protested a “produced water” conference at Hotel Santa Fe on Friday.
The conference attracted those involved in the oil and gas industry, water treatment advocates and economic development professionals. According to its website, the gathering is intended to “improve New Mexico and federal regulatory and environmental frameworks; and to foster economically viable opportunities to enhance fresh water conservation, produced water resource recovery, and produced water beneficial use.”
Protesters weren’t buying that.
“Produced water is water from fracking,” said Kyon Benally, an organizer of the protest. “It’s contaminated, and they say they want to sell it as recycled water.”
Environmentalists have long been concerned that produced water may contain toxic heavy metals — such as lead, zinc, iron, barium and manganese — which could seep into water supplies if put back in the ground.
“Chemicals used in fracking are not able to be cleaned,” said Ahjani Yepa of Jemez Pueblo. “It’s really a bad idea, one of the worst I’ve seen in all the battles I’ve been involved in. Using fresh water in one of the most dry and arid states is really a backwards solution.”
Rebecca Sobel of WildEarth Guardians, who spoke at Friday’s rally, said that for every barrel of oil produced, at least five barrels of produced water are generated.
But one of the conference organizers said Red Nation was mischaracterizing the purpose of the conference.
“We want to protect the environment and protect human health,” said Jeri Sullivan-Graham of the New Mexico Desalination Association. “We’re looking for ways to save fresh water.
“Nobody’s going to dump [the produced water] back into the ground without a whole lot more research,” Sullivan-Graham added, noting that possible uses for the water could include using it for cooling towers and possibly for agriculture.
However, Sullivan-Graham said, agricultural use wouldn’t happen any time soon. “The technology is there, but it’s not yet cost-effective,” she said.
Sullivan-Graham said conference participants want to produce a white paper for incoming Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and members of the new administration.
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