PROMO 64 Miscellaneous - Chemical Environment PFAS - iStock - Francesco Scatena - 1488767462

New Mexico activists secure hearing on 'forever chemicals' used in extraction 

© iStock - Francesco Scatena - 1488767462
Roz Brown

(New Mexico News Connection) Environmental groups and concerned citizens scored a victory in New Mexico Thursday that could lead to better regulation of PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals."

Following a meeting of the state's Oil Conservation Commission, board members agreed to hold a hearing next February to consider new rules governing the oil and gas industry and its use of PFAS.

Liliana Castillo, who serves on the Amigos Bravos board of directors, noted the toxic chemicals do not break down in the environment.

"Our water is our most important resource and we need all the protections we can get," she said. "This is especially pressing as drought and heat, fueled by climate change, impact our water supplies."

The commission's decision came after the group WildEarth Guardians filed a petition to ban PFAS in fossil-fuel activities and require that the industry fully disclose the hazardous chemicals it uses. 

The petition was filed after the group Physicians for Social Responsibility released a report that showed massive use of PFAS in New Mexico. Report author Dusty Horwitt, a senior consultant for the group, testified that oil and gas companies acknowledged injecting PFAS into more than 200 wells in six counties in the Permian and San Juan basins between 2013 and 2022. However, industry records also show fracking chemicals were injected into 8,200 other wells.

"These chemicals could be PFASs or other toxics, but their identities are kept secret from the public and regulators, as allowed by New Mexico law," he said. "The public has a right to know these chemical identities - and a right to be free from 'forever chemical' pollution."

Speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter, Antoinette Reyes, the chapter's Southern New Mexico organizer, said her group supports the proposal to make oil and gas companies reveal just what they use for fracking - despite industry concerns that it would expose their methods to competitors. 

"There is a way to require the disclosure of chemicals," she said, "similar to the food industry - where you list the ingredients, but don't give away the 'recipe' - which is a way that some states have gotten around the trade-secret issue."

PFAS are associated with cancer, birth defects and developmental damage to infants, as well as impaired functioning of the liver, kidneys and immune system.