12/29/2008 Peter Sanchez, CEO – Atrisco Oil & Gas
(Printed in Albuquerque Journal, Monday, December 29, 2008)
The recent discoveries of deep brackish water on Albuquerque’s west side and in Sandoval County have provoked a chorus of discussions. Some dialogue has been thoughtful and some has been alarmist and parochial. All points of view are necessary to choose the correct path. But we have not heard a glaringly obvious perspective. I present a case regarding deep water yet to be voiced:
In a desert… the discovery of any water is good.
Atrisco Oil & Gas discovered water while searching for natural gas this past year. Found at depths from 6,200 to 7,200 feet, the water is brackish. Because of its depth, it is outside the jurisdiction of the Office of the State Engineer (OSE). This lack of governmental oversight is at the root of much of the outcry, for some fear that the discovery of water is analogous to unbounded sprawl.
Quite simply, more water, a desperately needed resource, does not automatically lead to the building of more houses. Atrisco Oil & Gas is not promoting the proliferation of new housing developments simply because we found water. Moreover, we fully appreciate that the Atrisco water is not a renewable source and recognize that its use for new development may not be conscientious. Development is planned and controlled by city and county administrators who take all available resources into account. It is unrealistic to think that discoveries of brackish water are going to automatically result in an acceleration of home development.
Yet the question remains, do we regulate or not? We believe regulation would be beneficial for deep water discoveries. Regulation could actually stimulate more business investment and result in more water supplies for our communities. A considerable amount of investment risk rests solely with water entrepreneurs and partnering investors. Regulation, on a practical level, would lessen the uncertainties currently inherent in New Mexico’s deep water law and thus further encourage investment and discovery initiatives. However, regulation must be balanced. The New Mexico Legislature must be careful to consider and protect all interests when extending the OSE’s jurisdiction to include deep brackish water. Legislating insurmountable laws that discourage investment and risk-taking will result in a disservice to the community and state. More discoveries make good practical and economic sense for residents in this arid community. But economic development cannot proceed successfully without sensible and balanced regulation.
While the quantity of Atrisco water is not yet confirmed, it is very likely substantial. And while it is not renewable and therefore not suitable for significant new growth, it is nonetheless valuable. The discovery of any quantity of water cannot be a bad thing. The only problem is no water. To put the brakes on new water discoveries because they are not renewable – to discourage this type of business ingenuity – is just not smart. The Atrisco water can help address our limited water supply and should not create angst-driven manufactured problems. Water such as this can supplement supplies until better technology is available to economically desalinate the abundance of ocean water or divert water from flood areas to arid regions. Nonrenewable water can be a short-term solution.
Brackish water can also play a role in stimulating long-term economic growth. For example, brackish watercan be used as a raw material in manufacturing such as paper production and alternative energy processes such as solar energy. If Albuquerque can provide industries with a low-cost resource to manufacture their products, providing the opportunity to improve their profit margin – for a lengthy, albeit limited, time – new jobs would result. Manufacturers are currently using potable forms of water that would better serve people, purely because it’s all they have.
The days of plentiful, and therefore inexpensive, water are behind us. In spite of a lack of abundant water, our state continues to grow. If our supplies only diminish, the price we pay for water will continually rise. To thwart discovery efforts or to fail to recognize the importance of new found water would be irresponsible.
It has been said that without regulation, deep water is a “free for all,” in which anyone can claim and pump the water. Ironic, considering that there is nothing “free” about deep water. The investment in research, discovery, extraction, processing, waste disposal and even legal costs make deep water far from free. Deep brackish water is, however, “for all.” And a balanced and sensible legislative policy could prove to be what is needed to achieve a winning solution for all residents of this state, both today and tomorrow.