NMED: Stay out of Black River while Matador drilling mud spill investigated

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Residents in the Malaga area were advised to stay out of the Black River this week, as chemicals spilled by an oil and gas operation could be dangerous to people and livestock.

The release of a bentonite-based drilling mud and soda ash was detected by the New Mexico Environment Department on Monday, from a borehole operation being conducted by Matador Production Company for the past eight weeks, about half a mile off U.S. Highway 285. 

Staff from New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) were sent to the remote area of the river near Ogden Road south of Loving to investigate the spill.

EMNRD spokesperson Susan Torres said the pipeline was immediately cased to mitigate the spill. 

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The agencies collected water samples and continued to monitor the situation, said NMED spokesperson Maddy Hayden.

“We are working with EMNRD and NMDGF to monitor the spill and ensure human and animal health and the environment are protected,” she said.

NMDGF conducted a basic water chemistry panel to observe pH, or acidity, along with dissolved oxygen, temperature and conductivity.

Conditions were found to be normal, per a State news release.

Hayden said NMED demanded immediate remediation activities from the operator under state law.

"NMED and EMNRD will require the responsible party to remediate the spill pursuant to state regulations and hold the responsible party fully accountable for any and all violations of state laws," the release read. 

Matador and its environmental consultant Vertex Research Group were on site in cooperation with state agencies, and a release notification and corrective action form would be required to be submitted to EMNRD.

More:State of New Mexico investigating possible spill reported on Black River near Carlsbad

A portion of the Black River appears to be suffering from an industrial spill, Feb. 24, 2020 in Malaga.

Bentonite-based drilling mud can kill fish by increasing the turbidity, or the amount of suspended solids, in the water.

It could also smother benthic macroinvertebrates – small animals that dwell in a low point of the river and provide a food source for larger fish.

While no fish kills were observed as of Tuesday, responders did report a layer of bentonite about 75 to 100 yards downstream of the release point.

More:Water pipeline explosion from oil, gas operation leaves Carlsbad family seeking answers

Soda ash, made of sodium carbonate, is a water softener often found in swimming pools and aquariums to control the hardness and acidity of the water.

It’s addition to the river could increase the acidity, or pH depending on present levels, which could be fatal to fish and other animals.

The contaminated water appeared cloudy or milky, Hayden said.

“We advise people take caution and do not contact – or allow animals or livestock to contact – water that appears cloudy in that area at this time,” she said.

More:Oil and gas spills up in New Mexico, as production continues to grow

A pipeline construction site owned by Matador Resources is pictured, Feb. 24, 2020 in Malaga.

Adrienne Sandoval, director of the Oil Conservation Division (OCD) – the compliance arm of EMNRD – said her division was working closely with the cooperating agencies and intended to clean up the spill as soon as possible.

“We are coordinating with NMED and Game and Fish to get the situation resolved and ensure it is remediated and handled appropriately,” Sandoval said. “OCD has had inspectors on site to make sure we’re doing the appropriate things and make sure we all have the same information.”

Torres said the Department had staff on scene from the beginning and is continuing to investigate he cause of the spill.

She said updates would be forthcoming.

“We were notified right away, and we’ve had people in the field,” she said. “Right now, we’re just waiting to make sure we all have the same information.”

Matt Hairford, president of Matador said the company was working on a boring project under the river, but did not have any active pipelines in the area, and no oil or natural gas was released in the incident. 

"We take these things very seriously," he said. "We operate in a compliant manner. There were no hydrocarbons in the pipelines."

A pipeline construction site owned by Matador Resources is pictured, Feb. 24, 2020 in Malaga.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.