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Sandia Labs, BLM partner on water study

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FARMINGTON — Researchers from Sandia National Laboratories are partnering with the Bureau of Land Management to study how oil and gas development could impact water supplies in the San Juan Basin.

Thomas Lowry, a member of the technical staff at Sandia Labs, presented information on the study during the annual Animas and San Juan Watershed Conference on June 20 at San Juan College.

Lowry said the BLM is one of the primary property owners in New Mexico and also permits oil, gas and water wells on those properties.

“One of the things they’re very concerned about is the use of water for fracking and running out of water for not only fracking but also for... the other competing uses,” Lowry said.

He said the study has just recently started, but is similar to work done in the Permian Basin near Carlsbad. He said researchers will collect historical data, verify the data through field tests to ensure it is still relevant and monitor water wells in the San Juan Basin. 

In Carlsbad, researchers measured the depth of 37 wells and installed 14 continuously monitoring systems. Researchers also sampled 67 wells for water chemistry data.

Field work in the San Juan Basin began this week. Lowry anticipates researchers will take samples on a weekly basis over the upcoming months.

Lowry said tests will help show the availability of water and how it is currently being used. He anticipates the results will be available in September 2020.

Lowry’s team will monitor water wells in portions of the San Juan Basin that are likely to see increased oil and gas development near them. He said the team is also partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor two wells in Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Well owners can volunteer to have their wells monitored or tested during the study by emailing tslowry@sandia.gov. Property owners who volunteer to have their wells monitored will receive test results.

"Hopefully private well owners can get something out of it also as we move forward with this," Lowry said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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