Just over a month into his tenure as EPA Region 6 Administrator, Ken McQueen is crystalizing his priorities, which include using innovation to address issues like water conservation and emissions reductions.

“In the Permian Basin which is really the big growth area for oil and gas in the United States today with almost 50 percent of our rig fleet working down there, we’re producing increasing volumes of produced water and I’m hoping that EPA with our state partners, particularly New Mexico and Texas, can look at new and insightful ways to use that water for alternative uses rather than simply disposing of it down hole,” McQueen told Western Wire.

EPA Region 6, or the “south central” region spans five states: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, and also covers 66 tribal nations.

“Here in Dallas and Houston I don’t think people have the full appreciation of how dry it is out west but New Mexico for example averages about 14.5 inches of rain per year so any supplemental water sources that can be identified and used for purposes other than downhole disposal I think is a big benefit both for agriculture and for potential new alternatives for economic development for western states,” McQueen said.

McQueen also mentioned state primacy for oil and gas operations as an important priority for Region 6.

“I think that’s an important policy or an important aspect of EPA is to put the state in control of their destiny as much as possible,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of regulatory certainty when it comes to implementing federal rules and overseeing highly regulated industries.

“I don’t think you can overstate the importance of a collaborative role between states and the federal—in particular, EPA’s roles—for the regulated industries. I think the most important aspect that EPA provide is regulatory certainty for those industries and for the states,” McQueen told Western Wire. This is a big impact to long term economic development, and I think it’s incumbent upon the regulators to do everything that they can do to provide long term regulatory certainty for their individual industries.”

With both New Mexico and Texas under Region 6’s jurisdiction, overseeing the impacts of oil and gas production from the Permian Basin, which straddles eastern New Mexico and West Texas, is an important responsibility of McQueen’s team.

Production in the area has been booming, thanks to the extensive reserves, and large operators have invested heavily in cultivating the region’s resources.  New Mexico in particular has benefitted immensely from an economic standpoint, bringing in more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2019 thanks to oil and gas production on public lands in the state.

McQueen says technical innovation has helped address environmental concerns that may be associated with increased production and activity.

“The Permian, I view as America’s next strategic oil reserve.  And I really view inexpensive and readily available energy as a significant driver for long term economic development.  I think that’s part of the reason the United States has been as successful in the world markets is because we’ve had a readily available energy source,” said McQueen.

“I think as we move forward with the development of the Permian, we have to be mindful that there are some environmental concerns down there and I think what we’re seeing is that industry is rising to meet some of those challenges.  There’s a large number of infrastructure projects underway down there that are designed to relieve some of the issues, in particular there are some new natural gas pipelines being built out of the Permian Basin and I think that will help us in reducing flaring volumes down there.”

While McQueen commended the wider adoption of renewable energy sources like wind in diversifying the energy mix away from fossil fuels, he acknowledged that natural gas will still be used for electricity generation for years to come.

“From a technical standpoint I think there’s going to be an avenue for significant amounts of natural gas to be utilized for electrical power generation—certainly until 2040 and probably well into the 2050s because if you look at the significant reductions that have occurred in U.S. emissions in the last decade, it’s been largely accomplished through the retirement of coal plants and the replacement of those coal plants with combined cycle natural gas plants,” McQueen said. “So I think a lot of people are interested in moving away from hydrocarbons as we move forward because of concerns about CO2 emissions but I think the reality is that hydrocarbons are going to continue to play an important role in American industry during the next several decades to come.”