Work at the Carlsbad Brine Well remains idle as the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (ENMRD) secures additional money from New Mexico lawmakers for work resumption.
ENMRD Spokesperson Susan Torres said the department is seeking funding to complete the project which is estimated to be $18 million. The project was paused in July 2020.
“Since it was projected in the spring of 2020 that more funding would be needed to complete the project, EMNRD has been working with our state partners to secure additional funds,” she said.
Original funding for the work was $54 million and was set aside from various sources and there was an estimated $5 million left for monitoring at the former I&W Brine Well Site south of Carlsbad, where U.S. Highways 62/180 and 285 converge to form the South Y.
Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway is hopeful state lawmakers will find money to resume work.
“Discussions to obtain additional funding in order to complete this project are part of the ongoing legislative session. We are hopefully optimistic that a path forward will be reached that allows completion of this project,” he said.
The 2021 New Mexico Legislature convened Jan. 19 and the session adjourns March 20.
Torres said the project would resume when the anticipated total funding is secured.
“Conversations are ongoing but we’ll know more when the legislature finalizes the budget,” she said.
Sand deployment at the Carlsbad Brine Well was suspended last summer and the deployment equipment was removed from the site. The south portion of the site is backfilled and stabilized, while the north portion of the site is partially filled and partially stabilized, read an ENMRD news release.
The remediation contractor continues to conduct bi-weekly visits to perform any needed inspections, equipment repair, and site maintenance. An array of sensors deployed across the site collects data 24 hours a day 7 days a week to detect ground movement and pressure within the cavity, the release indicated.
Torres said the pause situation isn’t ideal. But, an ENMRD expert panel concluded any risk posed by a potential collapse of the cavern was mitigated.
“And the project is in a much better place than when we started. The project will resume when the anticipated total of funding is secured,” she said.
State Sen. David Gallegos (R-41) said legislators, ENMRD and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s staff members understand the urgency for the money due to the liability of a potential collapse.
“We’re all on the same page,” he said. “We need to get it done sooner than later.”
Along with ongoing review of the sensor data, any unusual ground movement triggers immediate alerts that are relayed to EMNRD and the Carlsbad Fire Department, according to the release.
In addition to monitoring seismic activity, the remediation contractor also inspects the site to ensure proper maintenance of equipment. The remediation contractor stays in communication with EMNRD and the Carlsbad Fire Department with any updates and project status, the release stated.
The Carlsbad Brine Well operated from 1978 to 2008 as a source of salt-laden water for use in oil well drilling. Fresh water was pumped into the subsurface to dissolve subsurface salt layers, creating a brine that was pumped out and trucked to the oil fields for use in drilling and completions. Removal of the salt created an underground cavity and a risk of collapse of the overlying ground, read the ENMRD website.
The New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD) recognized the hazard in Carlsbad after a brine well near Artesia collapsed in July 2008. A second brine well north of Loco Hills collapsed months later.
It has been estimated that a similar collapse at the Carlsbad Brine Well could cause in excess of $1 billion in damages, affect an essential irrigation canal, a major highway intersection, a rail line, and multiple businesses and residences, according to ENMRD’s website.
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at MSmith@currentargus.com or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.