Why NM Legislators Should Vote for SB 459
Summary: SB 459 creates a 4-year moratorium on issuing new fracking permits so that state agencies can collect data on the impacts of fracking and report to the Governor (Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Dept.; NM Dept. of Agriculture; Dept of Environment; Dept. of Health; Office of State Engineer; Indian Affairs Dept.; Workers’ Comp. Administration; and Workforce Solutions Dept.).
History: No previous similar bills.
Why This Bill Is Good for NM
- This is neither a ban, nor an attack on the oil and gas industry. It is simply a 4-year pause of issuing new permits. Production on active leases can continue. During this pause, the state agencies listed above will monitor and collect data on the impacts of fracking and send reports to the Governor.
- In a presentation to the Senate Conservation Committee, the Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Dept. revealed that the state is unaware of fracking’s impacts, that the law does not currently allow them to regulate fracking and horizontal drilling differently from conventional vertical drilling. NM needs the data and needs to develop regulations; we don’t have to accept damage to our environment and public health to get the economic benefits of fracking.
- New Mexico needs to develop its own regulations because fracking has been exempted, since 2005, from federal laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. In fact, at this time, it is perfectly legal to inject fracking fluids into underground aquifers.
- Fracking with vertical drilling has been done in New Mexico for 40 years. But fracking with horizontal drilling has been used only for about 15 years. It is more cost-effective but carries a bigger threat. Fracking has the potential to cause severe health problems, since the process injects a toxic chemical cocktail into the ground and produces large quantities of waste water with volatile organic compounds, chemicals that are known carcinogens associated with disorders of the brain and nervous system, respiratory system, and fetal development. Mothers in Colorado living near many oil and gas wells were 30% more likely to have babies with heart defects. In addition, nitrous oxides and other ozone precursors are emitted, exacerbating respiratory issues. Methane is also emitted and vented, increasing GHG and speeding up climate change. Groundwater may not have been contaminated by fracking itself, but it was contaminated by fracking’s wastewater. Wastewater had been stored in unlined pits and had leached into groundwater in almost 7,000 cases by 2008, contaminating it with VOCs and carcinogens, according to the OCD. That prompted the enactment of the “pit rule,” which provided greater protection for groundwater, despite fierce objection by the industry, which claimed that producers would flee the state because of this new regulation. Yet oil production in the state increased every year during the time that companies were expected to flee, according to the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division. By 2013, industry pressure succeeded in weakening the “pit rule” and a 2016 appeal was unsuccessful.
- The oil and gas industry will not walk away from the San Juan and the Permian Basins. Even if regulations tighten, industry stays where the oil and gas are. When Colorado tightened its regulations, the number of active oil and gas wells almost doubled, from 22,228 in 2000 to 43,354 in 2010. And it isn’t just the Fortune 500 companies who are staying; as of 2015, Colorado had 3,485 oil and gas operators.
Supporting Organizations: Wild Earth Guardians; Chaco Coalition; Common Ground Rising