NMSU, New Mexico Tech awarded funding for water treatment projects, aim to reuse oil and gas waste

Jun 30, 2020

Adrian Hedden, Albuquerque Journal | June 30, 2020

Almost half a million dollars were awarded to New Mexico higher learning institutions from the federal government for ongoing studies in how to treat produced water from oil and gas operations for possible use in other sectors.

The Bureau of Reclamation – an arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior – awarded $499,377 in total to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and New Mexico State University.

The Institute of Mining and Technology planned to use its grant in research to desalinate salty brine water discharged from oilfield operations, intending on allowing the treated water to be used for other purposes such as irrigation.

During oil and gas drilling, produced water is often brought to the surface with oil, up to 10 barrels of water per barrel of oil.

It is high in chemicals and brine, and traditionally reinjected underground for disposal.

Recently, the oil and gas industry in New Mexico began a push to treat and reuse the water in subsequent operations and potentially other industries.

NMSU’s grant would go to designing and fabricating an “energy-efficient” and environmentally-friendly system to remove per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which are often found in runoff water from manufacturing facilities and chemical labs.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) said water conservation is especially important in southern New Mexico, an area known for heavy oil and gas and industrial activities but also for water scarcity in the desert region.

“In southern New Mexico, we know firsthand how precious our water resources are to our community, economy, and environment,” Torres Small said. “This investment in projects at N.M. Tech and NMSU will help ensure New Mexico has the tools necessary to protect groundwater and address PFAS contamination.

“Our state depends on our ability to protect our water supply and I will continue to fight for smart investments to ensure we have the infrastructure we need.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee said the funding would help New Mexico continue to develop better methods of water management

“As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I’ve been working to ensure that New Mexico can sustainably manage our precious water resources so that we can thrive in the West for generations to come,” he said. “This investment represents a down payment on our road to cleaning up our irreplaceable groundwater and to develop innovative solutions to hazards like PFAS in New Mexico’s water supply.

“I’ll continue to fight for these important investments in water infrastructure and research as a proactive strategy to responsibly manage our water resources.”

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said the research conducted could benefit all regions of New Mexico.

“We must do everything we can to protect and improve precious water resources for communities across New Mexico,” Heinrich said. “That is why I am proud to support this funding for the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and New Mexico State University to keep the ball moving on water desalination projects and PFAS purification solutions.

“I will continue fighting for investments to improve water resources and research that creates more sustainable water infrastructures in New Mexico.”

In May, the Bureau of Reclamation made $1 million in grant funds available through its Desalination and Water Purification Research Program, seeking pitches for new water treatment technology with awardees to be selected this fall.

Applications were requested for new technology or process to treat brackish groundwater in methods less “energy-intensive” than current procedures, along with reducing the costs of reverse osmosis technology, seawater desalination, and treatment of unusable water.

“There is a need to reduce the cost, energy requirements, and environmental impacts in treating unusable water,” said Program Administrator Yuliana Porras-Mendoza. “This innovative program allows technical experts to help select the strongest applicants.”