Oklahoma has joined New Mexico in seeking permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to explore possible treatment options and new uses for fracking waste water.
Waste water from the oil industry — a mix of fracking solution and salty groundwater — is usually pumped back into earth once the industry can no longer use that water.
But New Mexico last month released a white paper exploring how the water might be treated, opening the possibility of using it on crops or even as drinking water.
Now Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality is seeking help from the EPA in securing permits that would allow it to regulate the use of that water.
The waste water is of high interest in states where water is scarce and leaders must balance the needs of industry and residents. The environmental downsides of injecting the waste water is another concern — Oklahoma tightened restrictions on the practice after it was linked to causing earthquakes in some parts of the state.
Ken McQueen, head of New Mexico’s Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, said the state is still evaluating just how broadly the treated water could be used.
“Where it eventually ends up will depend on our confidence that we can test it and make sure it’s safe,” he said. New Mexico’s plans drew pushback from environmentalists, who say even treated water may not be safe enough to use.
“We oppose even entertaining the idea of using this on crops,” said Eleanor Bravo, head of Food & Water Watch in New Mexico. “Because it’s chemically altered we believe it can never be returned to the evolutionary process as water.”
Companies that treat the waste water must limit its salt content and remove other chemicals that are added to water during drilling. Getting the water to meet drinking water standards is possible, industry leaders say, but costly.