SANTA FE — A controversial fracking ban bill hit a snag Tuesday in the New Mexico Legislature when brought before the Senate Conservation Committee, receiving little more than an introduction and no committee discussion or vote.
With only half an hour left of the committee’s morning session, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, offered a passionate plea to impose a four-year ban on issuing new permits for oil and gas well hydraulic fracturing.
Senate Bill 459, titled “Hydraulic Fracturing Permits & Reporting,” has been opposed vehemently, with legislators from southeastern New Mexico expressing doubt it will make it to the floor of either chamber.
The Legislative Finance Committee last week issued a Fiscal Impact Report on the bill, stating the economic loss would exceed $3.5 billion. Meanwhile, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association claimed fracking has been used to complete wells in this state for more than 50 years with none of the feared negative impacts.
Lopez began her introduction of the bill, “Two other states have banned fracking because of their concerns of potential impact on their environment, public health and water. Oil and gas is one of the many precious resources that belong to the state. Yet, we have not passed a law that regulates its extraction since 1935.”
She acknowledged the oil and gas industry is powerful and well-organized.
“I’ve seen that very clearly in the last few weeks. But we represent the people of this state,” Lopez said. “The people have directed us to protect the healthy and beautiful environment in Section 20, Article 21, of our Constitution.”
Urging passage of her bill, Lopez said pausing for four years would give the state time to study produced water, methane release and royalty issues.
Concerns about potential health issues also could be addressed, she said.
“We can test the children who live near the fracking sites to see if their precious lungs have been affected by the drilling. We can study babies who are born to mothers who live near the sites to see if there’s been an increase in birth defects because of their mothers breathing in the toxins. We can look at cancer rates,” Lopez said.
“We can protect the ancient, historic and cultural sites that are so precious to our Native American sisters and brothers. This can help us learn about actual and potential impact,” she added.
Lopez also challenged complaints that the ban would harm the state’s economy.
“Allow me to remind you that it is the oil and gas industry that is most concerned with their next quarter profits. With oil trading at $50 a barrel, historic lows right now, they need to pump out the volume in order to impress shareholders on their balance sheets,” she said.
“But we’re not a quarterly profit driven corporation. We are leaders who must consider future generations of our state and if we allow all of the oil in our state to get extracted in the next few years while prices are at all-time lows and with processes we do not understand and cannot regulate, not only will we have forsaken our land, water and air, we also will have made a bad long-term business decision.
“By passing a moratorium on new permits now, we will preserve what’s left of our precious resources in our shale, we will take the time to regulate how it is extracted and then we can open it back up when prices have gone up and do our state the service of potentially doubling or even tripling the money we can bring in from revenues from this resource.”
Subject matter experts with her were allowed to speak briefly, but admonished to keep their remarks short because the entire committee was expected on the floor of the Senate in moments.
Concerns mentioned included the probability that fracking in the Albuquerque area near the Rio Grande would cause earthquakes, even though the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico and San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico are relatively stable.
When the hour hit, Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, interrupted the speaker and announced, “We’ll conclude this hearing at a later time. We’re in recess.”
The bill has not been scheduled to be revisited.