New Mexico floats plan at COP28 to divert drilling wastewater to manufacturing

By Valerie Volcovici

DUBAI (Reuters) - The U.S. state of New Mexico on Tuesday used the COP28 talks in Dubai to announce a plan to divert wastewater from the oil and gas industry to water-intensive clean energy projects such as electric vehicle and solar manufacturing.

New Mexico is the second-biggest oil and gas producing state, behind Texas, and it brings enormous amounts of water to the surface, most of which is put back underground, as it produces oil and gas.

Diverting some of the water to manufacturing could take pressure off the arid state's dwindling water supplies, and also relieve its reinjection wells, which researchers say are at risk of filling and triggering earthquakes.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham told Reuters in an interview she was launching the program, described as a first of its kind, at the climate talks to inspire other countries with similar issues.

"If we do it, it will happen other places," she said.

She said she has had conversations with counterparts in Australia and Taiwan and has seen interest from policymakers in the Middle East.

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico intends to spend $500 million to buy treated drilling wastewater, along with with brackish water from underground sources, to build a strategic water supply, and would seek deals starting early next year.

The governor said the brackish underground water could potentially be treated for public consumption, while the produced water from drillers would be made fit for use in clean energy manufacturing.

The manufacturing industry, including the clean energy sector, uses huge amounts of water, typically either as an ingredient in products or the chemical processes to make them, or to cool equipment.

Lujan Grisham said she hoped the program would help New Mexico attract new clean energy manufacturing business.

Over 2 billion barrels of produced water were generated by New Mexico’s drillers in 2022, of which 1.2 billion were reinjected, according to the governor’s office.

Climate-driven droughts have worsened the state's water supplies. In Albuquerque, for example, the Rio Grande went dry for the first time in four decades in August 2022, and climate models predict up to a 25% reduction in available water across the state, the governor's office said.

Lujn Grisham said New Mexico will offer long-term contracts to potential water sellers, who would be required to clean up the water using the best technologies.

(editing by Richard Valdmanis and Barbara Lewis)