CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Multiple earthquakes were felt earlier this fall in West Texas, leading regulators in that state to designate a seismic response area and call for less wastewater from oil and gas development to be injected in disposal wells.
As more seismic activity was reported closer to the state line, officials in New Mexico have been watching closely and gathering data. Some officials are concerned that as Texas limits the injection of produced water as a means to curb the seismic activity, that could affect producers in New Mexico.
In October, Texas regulators created a second seismic response area just along the border with southeastern New Mexico. Officials pointed to more than a dozen quakes along the state line since Jan. 1, 2020, with six of those reported this fall.
That meant almost half of the heightened seismic activity in the area since last year occurred in the last month, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported. Texas officials referred to the activity as “unprecedented.”
Michael Hightower, director of the New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium at New Mexico State University, said it was clear Texas’ earthquake problem was spreading toward New Mexico.
“We know there’s a lot of water coming over from Texas,” he said. “If you inject all that, you’re going to have seismicity problems.”
He said most of the seismicity being observed is due to saltwater disposal wells and possible over-pressurization.
The consortium worked with Texas regulators, Hightower said, aiming to devise technology that could treat produced water and recycle it for uses like agriculture or even drinking water.
Many oil and gas companies already recycle produced water for subsequent fracking operations, but Hightower said expanding the potential for its reuse presents an economic opportunity and a way to address environmental and water scarcity concerns tied to fossil fuels.
“The big issue is how do you reduce the volume of produced water you’re disposing of. That is the exact mission of the consortium,” he said.
New Mexico was targeting a goal of a 30-60 percent reduction in produced water disposal, Hightower said.