By Elaine Cimino Common Ground Community Trust
With the climate crisis on the minds of billions around the globe, we are left with lots of questions here in New Mexico about how fracking impacts our air, climate, and also our state's precious water resources.
SB 149 passage through the Senate Conservation Committee on February 13th shows there is a growing call to action to address fracking’s climate impacts, as well as impacts and harms to New Mexican communities nearest to fracking sites. This critical bill asks for a timely and necessary assessment of fracking’s impacts on our limited water resources, consequences to agriculture and other industries that could experience adverse long-term consequences caused by fracking. Currently, those long-term costs to our environment are not fully understood, nor are the cleanup costs calculated and included in the Fiscal Impact Report (FIR) conducted by the legislature.
During a time of climate crisis and extreme drought in New Mexico, freshwater is disappearing at an alarmingly high rate from our dwindling surface and groundwater sources. Fracking can cause water shortages in two ways: it can contribute to climate change which affects our water cycle, and it directly sucks up the finite freshwater resources we do have. How much water is New Mexico actually making disappear because of fracking operations? What percent of our state’s water is lost, and what are the future water projections?
After a decade of heavy fracking development in New Mexico, there are questions that need to be answered. If fracking sites are close to schools, are the children safe?
These are extremely important questions that have not been answered by New Mexico legislators, state agency, or even the Governor. Senate Bill 149 is the only reasonable solution to address our state's environmental and health crisis caused by fracking.
The bill has been framed as a “ban” by the opposition, but in truth, it is a pause on licenses.
According to the State Land Office 1,045 licenses have been stockpiled by the industry. The FIR also fails to consider these 1,045 existing fracking licenses, while claiming that SB 149 would result in a budget deficit of 2022 (1,424.6) to over 2025 $(3,126.1) over the next 4 years. (Unfortunately, this means that fracking will continue, even while new licences are paused over the next 4 years. But this pause is necessary: dishing out more licenses in New Mexico would lock us into decades more of fracking, climate chaos and water shortages.)
Food & Water Watch, on the other hand, conducted an analysis of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED)’s permit glut showing that SB 149 halts the issuance of new permits, but does not impact existing permits and leases on state and private lands. This analysis determined that the FIR based its revenue estimates on an assumption that volumes of oil and gas from existing wells would decline and would not be replaced.
Additionally, the LFC lists costs associated with this bill as “recurring” despite acknowledging that the bill is repealed in 2025. There’s no articulation of why the bill would cause declines in permitting or production after 2025 or why the stockpile of permits were not included.
Lastly, NNMED receives approximately $2.2 million annually in revenue from permit fees that would likely be affected.
In 2020 alone, the permit glut grew to more than 2,400 as state regulators approved 5 times as many permits as the number of wells drilled. 81 percent of unused permits are on federal lands (versus 13 percent on state and 5 percent private land), potentially a result of a national effort by the industry to accumulate fracking sites on federal lands prior to Trump leaving office.
While the vast majority of new wells in the Permian Basin are hydraulically fracked, this does not mean that all oil and gas production in the state requires hydraulic fracturing. It is possible that in the short-term producers shift to conventionally accessible resources.
[Add new sentence about updated revenue forecast]. Why was this report, issued 7 days later showing increased revenues from oil and gas not included? The FIR SB149 is lacking crucial information that sabotages a modest bill like SB 149. Votes in committee appear to be influenced by the flawed FIR and by oil and gas campaign contributions.