The Oil Conservation Commission has resolved — for now — a dispute over use of a geothermal water resource in the remote Animas Valley of southern New Mexico.
AmeriCulture Inc., a desert fishery that raises tilapia fingerlings, and a local water conservation board protested a plan by Cyrq Energy Inc. to expand its geothermal power plant, which has a deal to produce electricity for Public Service Company of New Mexico.
The three-member OCC has OK’d Cyrq’s plan, with conditions that seem to have appeased all parties, but at least two lawsuits could keep the issue simmering for some time.
The tilapia fish farm and $43 million Lightning Dock power plant are a stone’s throw from each other in the dry Animas Valley near Lordsburg. Both draw water in the area: the fishery from a shallow water source and the power plant from a 250-plus-degree, deep geothermal source.
The two businesses have been coexisting somewhat uncomfortably since the Lightning Dock plant began producing power in 2014 under a deal to supply Public Service Co. of New Mexico with 10 MW of electricity — part of PNM’s long-term plan to meet renewable energy goals. PNM had earlier estimated that Lightning Dock would supply enough electricity for nearly 6,000 average homes.
So far the plant has been able to produce only 4 MW through its “closed loop” scheme of pulling up deep, geothermal water, running it through turbines to produce electricty and re-injecting the water back into the deep resource.
Under its initial operating permits, Lightning Dock was to reinject the hot water — known to contain potentially dangerous levels of fluoride — from where it came, without letting it mix with groundwater used for domestic wells, crop irrigation and for livestock.
This summer, Cyrq requested Oil Conservation Division permits to construct new wells to re-inject the geothermal water at shallower intervals. The plant apparently couldn’t inject hundreds of thousands of gallons of water deep enough or fast enough to ramp up its energy production to meet the PNM supply goal.
The local Soil and Water Conservation Commission joined AmeriCulture’s protest out of concern over how groundwater quality might be affected by the proposed shallow injection wells.
After more than five days of hearings, the OCC on Oct. 9 approved the three new injection wells under the condition that Lightning Dock drive their pipes at least 150 feet below the shallow water resource.
AmeriCulture attorney Charles Lakins called the decision “a major victory for protection of groundwater.”
“There is a lot of confusion about this issue, geologically,” said Meira Gault, an Hidalgo County rancher and president of the Hidalgo County Soil and Water Conservation Commission. “How are you going to protect us? What are the measures? By asking them to case it 150 feet below the alluvium, I think that will help.”
The commission’s final order on the matter is expected in the coming days.
“Cyrq Energy is very happy,” said spokesman Tom Caroll. “They are going to meet the conditions of the permit. They are not going to be injecting into the shallow drinking water acquifer.”
This particular dispute may have been resolved, but the feud between the two companies continues.
A subsidiary of Cyrq sued AmeriCulture and owner Damon Seawright in federal court in Santa Fe in June; AmeriCulture filed an amended complaint against Cyrq in state district court in Hidalgo County earlier this month.
“They are not the friendly neighbors who have decided to mutually coexist,” Lakins said.