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Water Management

A More Sustainable Future for New Mexico
Marathon Oil led an initiative to remove barriers to using produced water in New Mexico.

Across our U.S. operations, Marathon Oil looks for ways to conserve freshwater, and recycle and reuse as much produced water as possible. We believe following these water stewardship principles is the responsible way to operate for the environment, our communities and the sustainability of our assets. But the company and our industry face barriers under state and federal regulations and laws, as well as technical and logistical challenges to the responsible use and reuse of water resources.

In the water-stressed New Mexico Permian Basin, oil and gas operators produce sizable amounts of produced water. State regulators estimate that operators generated more than 1 billion barrels of produced water in 20181 along with 250 million barrels of oil,2 and both oil and produced water production are on the rise.

Given the scale of water issues in the basin, we’re proud to have initiated stakeholder collaboration that led to the passage and signing of the Produced Water Act in the first quarter of 2019. The bipartisan bill removes obstacles to using recycled produced water in the New Mexico Permian Basin and incentivizes the industry to use produced water whenever possible.

The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2019, clarifies and improves produced water laws in the state and restores the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) as the primary regulatory authority to enforce the state’s oil and gas protections.3 In doing so, it preserves valuable freshwater for municipal, agricultural and other beneficial public uses for all New Mexico residents. In addition, it can improve road safety and cut air emissions as operators move less produced water by truck.

The law enables Marathon Oil and other operators to recycle produced water and transport it across lands for hydraulic fracturing operations instead of having to buy freshwater from landowners. Before the law was enacted, in several instances Marathon Oil was required to buy freshwater when we wanted to use available produced water. In addition, by reusing produced water, operators can reduce disposal in underground formations.

Our team identified the opportunity to improve produced water regulations and worked quickly to help craft the law, identify stakeholders and collaborate on the law’s passage. We worked side-by-side with the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, the secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, other state regulators and agency staff, and fellow members of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA). The bill also drew support from conservationists, the agriculture industry and other stakeholders.

Using lessons learned on the New Mexico law, our employees are working to improve options for using produced water in Texas. Throughout the process, Marathon Oil is forging new relationships that will help us develop win-win solutions for other challenges as we continue to grow in an environmentally and financially responsible way.

¹Source: Circle of Blue article: New Mexico Oil Production is Soaring. Now What to Do With the Wastewater
²Source: New Mexico Oil and Gas Association article: New Mexico Oil Production Soars to a Record 250 Million Barrels in 2018
³Source: NGI’s Daily Gas Price Index article: New Mexico Governor Expected to Sign Produced Water Bill

Hugo Gutierrez
Director, State Government Affairs

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