A Carlsbad family has settled with an energy company over a burst pipeline that rained contaminated “produced water” from hydraulic fracturing onto them and their property last year.
The family reached a settlement last week with WPX Energy Permian LLC for an undisclosed sum over the incident, which occurred in January 2020.
Marlene “Penny” Aucoin, one of the complainants, said she was pleased with the settlement but concerned that the hazards that produced water poses to the environment and human health often get brushed aside by regulators.
“What scares me now is people are blissfully unaware of the dangers that come with fracking, including the enormous amount of flowback waste produced during the fracking process,” Aucoin said during a Zoom conference Wednesday.
Produced water is a euphemism for the byproduct containing radioactive materials, salts, heavy metals and chemicals, said Aucoin, who filed a notice of a possible claim with her husband, Carl George; his parents, who own the property; and other family members
With fracking, companies like WPX put chemicals into the liquid — most of them undisclosed for proprietary reasons — and then shoot it deep into the earth to break through rock and tap pockets of oil and gas. The liquid byproduct that flows back out of the ground is toxic and not closely regulated in New Mexico, Aucoin argued.
On Jan. 21, 2020, Aucoin and George were awakened by their barking dog at about 2:30 a.m., the complaint said. When they went outside, they encountered dirty water and oil from a burst pipeline raining down on their property as well as two neighbors’ properties. The contaminated liquid doused them, their house, their animals, their yard and their trees, the complaint said.
Aucoin said they plan to move from that area. Having to leave their home is unfortunate but necessary, she said.
“I live in a fracking war zone,” she said.
The conference also gave Aucoin and her attorney Mariel Nanasi, a clean energy advocate, a forum to criticize what they call weak industry oversight.
Nanasi called toxic spills from fracking “an ongoing environmental disaster in Carlsbad,” saying most incidents are either not reported or not penalized.
“The oil and gas industry has really had a nefarious impact on our land, our air and our water in New Mexico,” Nanasi said. “It’s really all for short-term profit.”
In response to the fracking incident, state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has proposed an amendment to the 2019 Oil and Gas Act.
It would make the discharge or release of produced water illegal and slap penalties on violators. And it would require the state Oil Conservation Division to use “the best available science” for fracking rules.
“Of course we should be using the best available science, but we haven’t been,” Nanasi said as she read the bill’s key provisions.
Aucoin said these reforms and others are needed. State agents seem to act as allies for the fracking operator, she said.
“There should be someone standing up for the victims,” Aucoin said.