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Bill that would freeze NM fracking permits gets pushback

Workers lower perforating tools, used to create fractures in rock, in a well during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. well pad near Mead, Colo., in March 2014. (The Associated Press)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A proposal to enact a four-year moratorium on the issuance of new hydraulic fracturing permits for oil and natural gas drilling across New Mexico is making waves at the Roundhouse.

Backers of the legislation, Senate Bill 459, describe it as a temporary freeze that would give the state time to study the environmental impacts of fracking, hire more state workers to monitor the industry and possibly develop additional regulations.

“I have been concerned for a while, and what we need is a pause,” Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview Tuesday. “The oil and the shale will still be there in four years.”

But critics say it sends a negative message to an industry that – via an oil drilling boom in southeast New Mexico – has boosted state revenue collections to an all-time high.

New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said in a statement the bill could do damage even if it’s not passed.

“The mere discussion in Santa Fe of the concepts presented in this bill will cause future investors to reconsider investing hundreds of billions of dollars in New Mexico when the state is considering eliminating their ability to recoup their investment,” said Pearce, who has worked in the oil field industry and was the Republican Party’s nominee for governor last year.

In a presentation to lawmakers, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn said the energy industry has already been implementing technological improvements to use less water and reduce methane emissions.

Meanwhile, the debate even flared up on the Senate floor Tuesday, with Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, saying New Mexicans should be thankful to oil and natural gas companies.

“If we get ourselves all worked up and try to limit our oil and gas production, it too will shut down our economy just as if we banned all automobiles,” Sharer said.

In response, Sedillo Lopez cited a section of the state Constitution that calls on the Legislature to regulate pollution levels to the benefit of all New Mexicans.

Fracking involves using pressurized water and chemicals to fracture underground rock formations to gain access to mineral deposits. The moratorium legislation, which was introduced this week, would bar any new permits from being approved until June 2023.

In the meantime, it would also require several state agencies to file annual reports to both the Legislature and the Governor’s Office about how many permits have been requested and approved, the environmental impact of fracking and more.

Sedillo Lopez, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, acknowledged the legislation might face long odds during the 60-day session that ends March 16, but said the bill has widespread public support.

“I think it’s going to be a heavy lift, but I hope to convince them,” Sedillo Lopez told the Journal.

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