Report documents use of PFAS in hydraulic fracturing in New Mexico


Report that PFAS chemicals were used in hydraulic fracturing operations in New Mexico “highlights how important it is for regulators to know what’s in industrial wastewater,” Maddy said Hayden, spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of the Environment. NM Policy Report in an email.

Doctors for social responsibility published a report This week, PFAS chemicals, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyls, or chemicals that can break down into PFAS, were used in hydraulic fracturing operations in 1,200 wells in half a dozen d ‘States, including New Mexico.

PFAS chemicals have a wide range of applications and can be found in household items, including non-stick cookware. In recent years, there has been growing concern about the potential health effects of these “perennial chemicals”, which do not break down under normal environmental conditions.

“Ongoing research into the uses of PFAS and the prevalence of these persistent chemicals in the environment is essential to support strong regulatory responses at the federal and state levels,” said Hayden.

New Mexico has asked the EPA to list PFAS as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Related: Governor asks EPA to place PFAS on hazardous waste list

“We need a comprehensive regulatory framework to ensure that the creation, use and ultimate disposal of PFAS is done in a safe and controlled manner, with clear authority for the state to hold polluters to account. Hayden said.

PFAS contaminated groundwater near Clovis and Alamogordo as part of activities at Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases. These two bases were used in fire extinguishing foam containing PFAS during training exercises.

New Mexico has since sued the US Department of Defense for the contamination and the litigation is ongoing.

New Mexico is currently limited in what it can do to regulate the use of PFAS in oil and gas operations. For example, Hayden said that NMED does not have the power to regulate chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Although the Department of the Environment does not have the power to regulate chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, companies are required to report fluids used, according to Robert McEntyre, spokesperson for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. . In an email to NM Policy ReportMcEntyre said the NMOGA lobbied for rules requiring the disclosure of fracking fluids in 2011, which were ultimately passed by the state’s Petroleum Conservation Commission.

Outside of the oil and gas industry, NMED can regulate releases to groundwater for three types of PFAS chemicals: PFOA, PFOS, and PFHxS, Hayden said.

What the report found

Physicians for Social Responsibility began with a Freedom of Information Act request examining the US Environmental Protection Agency’s discussions of three chemicals that could break down into a type of PFAS known as PFOA . Despite concerns about health impacts, regulators have approved the use of these chemicals in hydraulic fracturing.

Physicians for Social Responsibility took a more in-depth look at the FracFocus database to assess the use of these chemicals. While the group could not find records of the three chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing – something McEntyre noted in his email – they did find chemicals with related names that had been injected into more than 1 200 wells in six states, including New Mexico. After discussing these chemicals with experts, Physicians for Social Responsibility determined that they were either PFAS or could decompose into PFAS.

These chemicals included fluorinated benzoic salts, polyethylene glycol substituted with fluoroalkyl alcohol, fluorinated surfactants, meta-perfluoromethylcyclohexane, and nonionic fluorinated surfactants, which were the most commonly listed.

Physicians for Social Responsibility found evidence of two companies with wells in New Mexico using a nonionic fluorinated surfactant, but McEntyre argued that Physicians for Social Responsibility provided no evidence that its chemical had been misused. useful by oil and gas operations. A third company used polyethylene glycol substituted with a fluoroalkyl alcohol in wells in New Mexico.

“The evidence that people could be unknowingly exposed to these extremely toxic chemicals through oil and gas operations is troubling,” Dusty Horwitt, author of the report, said in a press release. “Given the terrible history of pollution associated with PFAS, the EPA and state governments must act quickly to ensure that the public knows where these chemicals have been used and are protected from their impacts.”

NMOGA: fracking did not contaminate NM groundwater

McEntyre called the Physicians for Social Responsibility report “another militant tactic light on science and heavy on feigned hysteria.”

McEntyre said oil and gas companies have been hydraulic fracturing in New Mexico for decades, and hydraulic fracturing has been used thousands of times in the state without a single documented case of groundwater contamination.

While industry groups like NMOGA often say there are no documented cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing in New Mexico, there have been documented cases in other states like Wyoming.

“Oil and natural gas producers are committed to safe, science-based practices to ensure the protection of the environment and the integrity of wells and other production facilities,” said McEntyre. “Every well built in New Mexico that uses the fracking method must have multiple layers of steel and cement and is drilled thousands of feet below the surface to protect it from leaks or contamination. Wells are also pressure tested before production begins to ensure each well is secure, and 24-hour continuous monitoring informs trained maintenance and operations personnel so any potential issues can be quickly resolved. .

MP: EPA must act

US Representative Teresa Leger Fernández said the US Environmental Protection Agency must immediately heed the findings of the Physicians for Social Responsibility report and “take action to ensure the health of our communities.”

“Communities in New Mexico know firsthand how devastating the PFAS contamination can be,” Fernández, a Democrat, said in a statement to NM political report. “The PFAS contamination in New Mexico has already ruined farms, dairies and threatened our water supply in my district. It puts lives, livelihoods and this beautiful place we call our home in jeopardy. “

Just days before the publication of the Physicians for Social Responsibility report, she hosted a press conference with a dairy farmer in the Clovis area on how the PFAS contamination at Cannon Air Force Base destroyed her farm.

Related: USDA could buy cows from dairy farm contaminated with PFAS

The Physicians for Social Responsibility report indicates that PFASs used in hydraulic fracturing could put groundwater at risk. These chemicals could enter groundwater through a variety of methods, including spills, inadequate wastewater treatment and discharge, subsurface migration and cracks in casing or cement, according to the report.

“The American people have a right to know what chemicals are used in the production of oil and gas,” Fernández said.

PFAS could be found in produced water

PFAS could potentially enter groundwater through produced water, a by-product of oil and gas extraction that may contain chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

While the NMOGA says there is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated New Mexico’s groundwater, there are hundreds of documented produced water spills each year in the state.

Related: “Breach of duty”: 1.6 million gallons of produced water released so far in 2020

In light of aridification in the western United States and the ongoing drought, some New Mexico lawmakers have hoped that produced water could be a way to alleviate water shortages. The water produced, they say, could be treated and put to good use.

This led to the passage of the New Mexico Produced Water Act of 2019.

“The New Mexico Produced Water Act of 2019 gave the New Mexico Department of the Environment regulatory authority for all uses of produced water outside the oil and gas industry,” Hayden said.

Related: More questions than answers on how to reuse produced water

NMED does not currently issue permits for produced water discharges, she said.

In the oil and gas industry, the use of produced water is regulated by the Petroleum Conservation Division of the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.

NMED and OCD have partnered with the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium to collect additional data on produced water.

“Before we write rules for the regulated use of treated produced water outside the oil and gas sector, we are investing in solid science to fill the gaps in our understanding of what is in produced water and how it can be treated to remove harmful pollutants. “Hayden said.” Ultimately, we aim to determine what end uses, if any, could take advantage of this water source without harming human health and the environment and be a tool to mitigate the impacts of climate change, in particular drought. ”

Related: Farmers and researchers reflect on using treated produced water for irrigation

The NMED also intends to file a petition with the State Water Quality Control Commission to amend ground and surface water regulations under the Water Quality Act. water to “prohibit all discharges of untreated produced water outside the oil and gas industry,” she said.

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