Governor, locals laud completion of remediation project

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CARLSBAD, N.M. — For local government officials, Wednesday was a day of celebration.

“A lot of efforts went in – multiple years. It’s been a journey for a lot of folks,” Allen Davis, Eddy County manager, said to a room full of government and business leaders at the National Cave and Karst Research Institute.

Wednesday’s gathering marked the completion of the Carlsbad Brine Well Remediation Project, an $80 million joint state and local government project to fill an unstable underground cavity located south of the intersection of U.S. Highways 285 and 180.

According to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the state invested a total of $67.4 million into the remediation, while Eddy County and the city of Carlsbad contributed a total of $12.6 million.

It all began in 2008 when the underground cavity was created by fracking.

“And that kicked off a series of engineering analyses what was going underground, what do we need to remediate it and then finding the funding to help,” said Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Fixing it was not easy.

“How hard can it be to fill a hole? Well, it was the size of the state capital,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said to the audience.

It took more than 170,000 cubic yards of sand and grout to stabilize the ground.  

The cavity was vast and located 425 feet below ground and was 200 feet deep. If not addressed, the ground could have posed a public health and safety threat – not only to drivers on the highway – but also to an irrigation canal and a nearby railway.

“It would have been disastrous for the surface, for Highway 285. It would have been disastrous for the irrigation canal, for surface owners, for citizens. But it would have also impacted groundwater and that was a very serious risk that needed to be remediated,” Cottrell Propst said.

Now that the backfilling of the cavern is done, work is being down to restore the surface. And the state has also authorized two years of funding for monitoring.

“Primarily we will be monitoring the pressure in the cavity for any seismic activity, including whether the cavern is being impacted by nearby oil and gas operations,” Cottrell Propst said.

In her remarks, Lujan Grisham praised the project as an example of bipartisanship and local and state government coming together to solve complex problems.

“This Legislature funded this project and the local government stood up as well. That is the way it should work,” she said.