If Sandoval County commissioners give in to opponents of shale gas and oil production and impose a ban on the “fracking” process, New Mexico’s energy and economy will take a big hit.
Keep in mind that shale technology has quickly allowed America to become self-sufficient in energy while lowering costs and reducing carbon emissions.
Given that more than 30 percent of the state’s general fund revenue is derived from taxes paid by the oil and gas industry, a ban on shale production in energy-rich Sandoval County – the Mancos shale holds large amounts of natural gas – would mean less money would be available for many public services.
The general fund is the primary source of funding for public schools and higher education. It also pays for environmental protection, road construction and maintenance, and many other government functions.
A restrictive ordinance on shale production in Sandoval County would mean less revenue from royalties and taxes on oil and gas production as well as fewer job opportunities. This, at a time when New Mexico can ill-afford to let oil and gas companies shift their operations to neighboring states; Texas comes to mind.
What’s also important to recognize is that oil and gas producers are doing more with less. Automation is increasing the efficiency – and therefore safety – of hydraulic fracturing.
When used in tandem with horizontal drilling, fracking can produce enormous amounts of oil and gas. By using more reliable automated tools in shale fields like the Permian Basin in Southeast New Mexico and the San Juan Basin in the northwest part of the state, companies are producing more oil and gas for less money.
With the benefit of fully digitalized shale exploration, gas reservoir data that once took five weeks to analyze is now done in a day. Because better use is being made of computerized data, shale producers have slashed the number of days it takes to drill and complete a well from 30 days to 15 days.
Also, many of the changes are reducing the cost of above-ground operations. For example, trucks that were needed to haul water for fracking operations are being replaced with automated water pump stations. This has resulted in significant time and cost savings. Recycling of fracking water has meant there is less need for wastewater disposal wells.
But, some argue that fracking is unsafe. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in the Obama administration, determined that the combination of fracking and horizontal drilling is safe.
Some simply oppose production of fossil fuels anywhere and want to keep oil and gas in the ground. But they ignore the fact that the shift from coal to natural gas has reduced U.S. carbon emissions from electricity production to 1980s levels. And there have been real benefits for public health due to less air pollution.
Something else: the increase in gas production has helped to spur growth in solar and wind power, because back-up power from gas turbines is available when the wind is not blowing nor the sun shining. Moreover, we are going to need all of our energy sources well into the future.
Thanks to plentiful resources and new innovations in shale production, New Mexico can be in the energy driver’s seat for many decades. That’s why the Sandoval County Commission should embrace shale production, not ban it.
J. Winston Porter is based in Atlanta with particular interest in New Mexico and other energy states. Earlier, he was an EPA assistant administrator in Washington, D.C.