You’ve seen the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association ads: “We’ve been fracking for oil and natural gas for more than 50 years without one case of ground-water contamination.”
The oil and gas industry has targeted the central Rio Grande Valley for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking. In 2017 it proposed an oil and gas ordinance to Sandoval County that would, with few restrictions, have allowed unconventional drilling – a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking – in unincorporated areas of the county. Although it was rejected in December, another industry-friendly extraction ordinance was placed before Sandoval County this summer where it is currently pending.
Are industry claims of fracking’s safety true? Can horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking be done anywhere in the Albuquerque Basin without endangering our drinking water aquifer?
In fact, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking – quite different from conventional fracking associated with vertical drilling – have only been going on nationwide for about 15 years. In New Mexico, it has been done predominantly in the San Juan and Permian basins in the northwest and southeast regions of the state. It has never been tried in the Albuquerque Basin.
The subsurface geology of the San Juan and Permian basins differs dramatically from what lies beneath us. The strata underlying those two basins are long horizontal layers relatively undisturbed by high-angle faulting. Thousands of feet of solid rock lie between the shale gas and the aquifers near the surface. For this reason, hydraulic fracking in these basins has not resulted in contamination of drinking water aquifers.
The Albuquerque Basin couldn’t be more different. It lies within the Rio Grande Rift Valley where immense tectonic forces exert pressure on the earth’s crust. For this reason our basin is heavily faulted. The faults carve up underlying strata into many segments of differing depths.
In many cases, the Mancos Shale – target of the fracking industry – has been faulted into direct contact with the drinking water aquifer. It’s not hard to see how vulnerable our drinking water aquifer would be if horizontal drilling penetrated the aquifer.
There is also the danger that drill bores could cross fault zones directly. In this instance, toxic fracking fluids could migrate upward along the faults from the Mancos Shale, where fracking is being done, and wind up in our drinking water aquifer.
The oil and gas lobby has also claimed that the aquifer underlying the Albuquerque Basin is broken up into many, tiny isolated aquifers. This convenient pretext is an attempt to justify fracking in remote rural locales without alarming residents of the metro Albuquerque area.
Authoritative sources, including the U.S. Geological Survey and New Mexico Tech, have established the aquifer underlying the Albuquerque Basin is, for the most part, a continuous aquifer. Since the aquifer is deeper below Albuquerque than it is below Peña Blanca, and since water flows downhill, fracking fluids contaminating the aquifer anywhere north of Albuquerque could wind up flowing toward Albuquerque.
The recently published multimedia documentary movie “Sacred Land, Sacred Water” presents geological evidence demonstrating the likelihood of contamination of our aquifer should hydraulic fracking be allowed anywhere within the Albuquerque Basin. Since 85 percent of our drinking water is drawn from our aquifer, this represents an intolerable risk to public health and to the region’s economic sustainability. The movie also tells the story of how science and citizens are working together to resist efforts by the oil and gas lobby to pass a fracking-friendly ordinance in Sandoval County.
The grand premier of “Sacred Land, Sacred Water” will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the KiMo Theatre. Tickets are available at the ticket office (505) 768-3544, or online at www.kimotickets.com.