With the oil and natural gas sector pumping record amounts of revenue into the state's economy, a freshman member of New Mexico's legislature has proposed a four-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), Senate Bill (SB) 459, which would surely mean a hit for that economy.
The proposal is being pushed by environmentalists and members of the Navajo Nation's Counselor (NM) Chapter House. It would stop state permits for fracking and impose new reporting requirements on state agencies overseeing oil and gas activities that have ramped up in both the San Juan and Permian basins.
Officials at the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) have told lawmakers that SB 459 would be a "disaster" for New Mexico and lacks facts or science to support it.
Advocates of the bill argue that regulations were not a priority under former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over the last eight years. They say the public health and environmental impacts of fracking need to be examined more closely now that newly elected Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has taken office. The measure is currently in the Senate Conservation Committee.
Under the proposal, the Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department would stop issuing hydraulic fracturing permits and be one of seven agencies required to report annually to the governor and legislative committees about the impacts of fracking. The other agencies would include the Departments of Agriculture, Environment, Health, and Indian Affairs, along with the Workers Compensation Administration and the State Engineer's Office.
Democratic state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez of Albuquerque is one of the bill’s sponsors. She is new to the state legislature having been recently appointed by Lujan Grisham to fill a vacancy.
NMOGA's spokesperson Robert McEntyre has complained that the backers of SB 459 did not seek input from the oil and gas industry, nor individual communities. He claims that fracking has been well studied in the state.
"There is not a ground swell of activity on either side of the political aisle to push forward with this legislation," McEntyre told NGI's Shale Daily. "But it is a bad thing that these types of bills are going to make their way forward in the next couple of years."
Lujan Grisham has already issued a separate executive order on climate change. McEntyre said NMOGA is not concerned about the order. He noted that the new governor has indicated she wants the oil and gas industry "at the table" as the process moves forward.
"We're encouraged by her comments about the industry and the executive order has been all about partnership, and we certainly want to participate in that process," he said.