The Journal published a guest column Feb. 16 by oil executive George Sharpe that exemplifies a concept important for all to understand: gaslighting. The author attempts to gaslight me, my legislative colleagues and all New Mexicans. As a former executive director of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit, I am familiar with gaslighting tactics.
Gaslighting describes how an individual in a position of power lies to manipulate others. Gaslighters lie, exaggerate, threaten and repeat. They wear their victims down and try to make them believe that the lies are true to dominate and control.
The piece singles me out, even though Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, is a co-sponsor and other legislators have signed on to it. I am described as a representative; I am a senator. The author says he would have thought that someone as educated as I would understand his cited studies and his economic conclusions, implying that there is something wrong with my intellectual capacity. This is classic gaslighting: single out, isolate the victim and demean.
His first false claim is Senate Bill 459 is a “ban” on fracking. The bill is a four-year moratorium on issuing new permits for fracking. All existing permits will continue. The bill requires that relevant state agencies prepare reports on actual and potential impacts of hydraulic fracking on New Mexico’s land, water, air and public health. It requires agencies to propose appropriate regulations. The problem that this bill addresses is huge: the state of New Mexico currently lacks sufficient capacity to regulate and/or monitor the impacts of hydraulic fracking.
The author refers to a 2015 report by the EPA, claiming that the report finds that “groundwater is not inherently in danger from the fracking process. Just ask Obama.” In fact, the report states that “water might be particularly at risk (in areas where) water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing (occur) in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources.” This warning from the EPA is particularly relevant to water scarcity in New Mexico.
The piece disingenuously compares water use in fracking to golf course maintenance. The author claims that “one fracking stage uses 250,000 gallons of water” and then compares that to the amount of water used to water a golf course in the summer. What he neglects to admit is that producing a million barrels of oil requires about five times that amount of water, both for use in the wells and to dispose safely. Plus, golf course watering typically does not contaminate the water and take it out of the water cycle. Fracked water contains unknown chemicals and is discharged deep in the ground, and thus completely removed from the water cycle.
Finally, he claims the oil industry might leave New Mexico, and taxes and royalties will disappear. This is a hollow threat and a likely falsehood. It is unlikely oil companies will walk away from a state that charges them 5 percent less royalty tax than Texas. There are about 64,000 state-regulated wells, not counting around 50,000 wells on federal land. Some wells have pumped since the 1930s. They will not all immediately stop pumping. The industry does not take into account state needs when it makes drilling and pumping decisions; its decisions are based on profit potential. And it ignores our values, such as protecting our water, health, beautiful landscapes and historic cultural sites like Chaco Canyon. We must step in, pause and protect.
Oil industry employees and lobbyists, please don’t try to gaslight us. I call on all New Mexicans to read the New Mexico Constitution, Article 20 Section 21, which requires the Legislature to protect our beautiful and healthy environment. Contact legislators to tell them that you worry about the potential impact of fracking, and that a pause is in order.