It’s Alive – Stefanics Keeps Oil and Gas Industry Water Bill Alive … Her Largest Recently Reported Individual Campaign Donation: Chevron ($5,500)

Like Frankenstein’s Monster, SB 294 Just Popped It’s Head From the Shallow Grave of Yesterday’s Tabling Motion.

Senate Bill 294 is entitled “Strategic Water Supply Program.”

There is a lot of concern, however, as to who’s interests the strategy, as laid out in the bill, will be benefiting.

Yesterday, Senators on the Senate Conservation Committee resoundingly tabled the bill.

(Tabling a bill in committee usually means it is dead; especially with less than two days left to the New Mexico Legislative session.)

But its main sponsor, Senator Liz Stefanics is bringing it back before the committee at the apparent request of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham – and there is strong suspicion, at the request of lobbyists for oil and gas interests.

According to Stefanics’ campaign contribution report, Chevron Policy Government & Public Affairs donated $5,500 last Spring.

The Chevron donation was the largest from an individual or a business to Stefanics during the most recent reports filed with the Secretary of State.

Stefanics, who politically is considered an “progressive,’ also transferred more than $45,900 from her old campaign committee to the current committee formed on her behalf.

The older contribution reports also reveal that Chevron was one of her largest financial supporters from 2020 to 2023.

The Governor’s campaign coffers, like many in the progressive Democratic House and Senate leadership, were also filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry over the past few years – including from Chevron.

According to a June story reported by Mella McEwen in the Midland Reporter-Telegram:

“Chevron USA and Pilot Water Solutions have entered into a long-term contract for water management services. Under the agreement, Pilot will construct and operate a large-diameter pipeline and related disposal infrastructure to safely, efficiently and effectively transport produced water away from Culberson County for shallow disposal in Reeves County.”

Culberson and Reeves Counties sit on the New Mexico – Texas border, adjacent to the Permian Basin’s Eddy County.

The Midland Reporter-Telegram story quoted Zachary Neal, a senior vice president of Pilot, as saying:

“As beneficial reuse technologies advance, we believe this and other infrastructure we own in the Permian Basin will play a critical role in the solution,” Neal wrote. 

As SB 294 is being fast tracked, many in the environmental community have argued it needs to be stopped and more study pursued about the objectives and the interests behind the bill’s special treatment by the Governor and her team.

It was advanced in the waning hours of the state’s 30-day legislative session by Senate Conservation Committee Chair Senator Liz Stefanics, a Democrat.

As reported yesterday, legislative sources told The Candle that the “fourth floor” – a common reference to the Governor’s team – is pushing for SB 294, but there is a lot of head scratching by legislators wondering what is really going on with this bill – and why the late, rushed effort.

Also signed on the bill as sponsors are Senate Finance Committee Chairman George Muñoz and Senator William Sharer.

Upon close examination, this bill is a portal for the oil and gas industry’s efforts to play a bigger role in the state’s water policy.

Stefanics and the Governor’s environmental team tried to put a “progressive” spin on the intent of the bill claiming it was only impacting naturally occurring brackish water.

That however, does not comport with the first section of the bill, as it does not prohibit the Governor from having her environment department also pursue the oil and gas industry’s efforts to create and advance policy and spend capital resources on “produced water.”

Produced water is a product of oil and gas fracking and other industrial operations. Oil and Gas companies want more public dollars available to bail them out of responsibility of cleaning up the polluted water they created – and along the way to also use the state’s money to develop a market for the use of cleaned up produced water by other industrial applications.

A close reading of Section 1. A. states “the department of environment shall administer the strategic water supply program.” It gives the agency a broad mission which in no way limits the agency to only work on brackish water.

The bill states the “strategic water supply program is created to reduce reliance on limited freshwater resources while furthering clean energy and advanced manufacturing development that meaningfully contributes to the state achieving a measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Although other sections of the bill call for the use of $100 million only for brackish water, that initial language of the bill places no limit on what the agency can use its other resources for.

It is important to note that the environment department has already fast-tracked rules changes to expand the use of produced water. And the Governor has also pushed for another $400 million for her initiative which includes produced water.

A hearing was held on SB 294 yesterday during which Senator Joseph Cervantes noted that the sponsors of the bill were essentially treating the state’s water as a commodity – something which has been guarded against for generations.

At the end of the hearing on the bill, all members of the committee except Stefanics, voted to table the bill – which, as noted above, usually means it has met its end for the session.

However, Stefanics and the Governor are not being denied – Stefanics rescheduled the bill for another hearing this morning at 8:30 a.m. (Click here for links to a Zoom for that meeting, and follow the prompts for the Senate Conservation Committee.)

Senate Conservation Committee
Wednesday, February 14, 2024  –  8:30 AM  –  Room 311


Note: For public participation and to register for the Zoom Webinar send email to [email protected] To attend meeting via Zoom Webinar click the following link:

Webinar ID: 824 0438 2748, Zoom Call: 1 669 900 9128