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Lawmaker: Fracking ban would be ‘disastrous departure’

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A bill introduced in the New Mexico Senate Monday to place a four-year moratorium on the granting of permits for hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — is drawing fire from at least one local lawmaker as well as the oil and gas industry.

Senate Bill 459 would prohibit the issuance of new permits in New Mexico for oil and gas development that involves fracking. The ban would remain in effect until June 2023.

Fracking is the injection of liquids and other materials at high pressures within shale formations to spur production and extraction of energy from an underground well after drilling ends, according to the website of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

The practice takes about three to five days. Once the fracking operation is completed the well can produce energy for a period of years or decades, according to the website.

State Sens. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, and Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, introduced the bill Monday. Sedillo Lopez talked about the bill during a press conference in Santa Fe.

A member of the Senate Conservation Committee, Sedillo Lopez said the Committee learned last week from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department that the state government knows next to nothing about the impact fracking has on the state’s waters, aquifers and public health.

In other states there have been reports of contaminated water and earthquakes as a result of fracking, Sedillo Lopez said.

“The oil and gas industry is bringing in record profits and that is great for them, but at what cost to our state, our people and our land?” she asked.

State Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, and a member of the House Energy, Environmental & Natural Resources Committee, said in a phone interview Tuesday that moving forward with energy production without fracking would “be a disastrous departure from current practices.”

Fracking, he added, has been one source of the state’s dramatic spike in oil production, widely credited with leading to a surplus in state revenue.

Anderson — also a member of the House Appropriations & Finance Committee — said he has not yet seen a fiscal impact report on the effect a fracking prohibition would have on the state’s finances, but it would likely lead to a sharp downturn in revenue.

“I am sure there will be a great deal of interest in a fracking suspension as it would affect state revenue in a drastic manner,” Anderson said.

Money from energy production makes up anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of all revenue in the state general fund in a given year, according to the State Legislative Finance Committee. Property taxes from the production also are a source of revenue for the state and local governments.

Robert McEntyre, communications director for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said in an interview Wednesday that fracking is crucial when it comes to shale development in the Permian Basin — the oil field that spans western Texas and southeastern New Mexico — with more than 90 percent of production coming from wells where fracking has taken place.

A fracking moratorium would not only be bad for the state budget, but for the larger New Mexico economy as well, including layoffs of workers in the industry, he said.

“We cannot understate how devastating it would be for our schools, our state budget and all New Mexicans,” McEntyre said.

He also accused Sedillo Lopez of not understanding the energy industry and said she did not consult experts when crafting the legislation.

Sedillo Lopez did not respond to requests for comment before the Daily Record’s deadline.

McEntyre defended the environmental record of the oil and gas industry, disputing claims about the dangers of fracking.

“Our record on protecting the environment and protecting drinking water is second to none,” he said.

A lack of understanding about how fracking works and a long-term coordinated campaign against the oil and gas industry by environmental activists is responsible for the perceived dangers of fracking, he said.

The legislation next goes before the Senate Conservation Committee for consideration.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.