NM congresspeople continue opposition to fracking ban proposal from Democrats

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Democrat congresspeople from New Mexico opposed a federal bill introduced by a foursome of fellow party members that sought to ban fracking across the country in hopes of stopping perceived environmental harm from oil and gas production.

The move came as the industry continued its boom throughout the nation and in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves the pumping of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break open deep rock formations known as shale to extract oil and natural gas.

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The use of the process allowed oil and gas operators to target deeper and harder-to-reach oil and gas resources and was credited with a recent economic boom in New Mexico that saw the state reap billions of dollars in surplus funds used to pay for ambitious proposals such as free college and universal childcare.

But U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), who co-sponsored the bill known as the Ban Fracking Act with Democrat Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), said the economic benefits were not worth the perceived irreparable harm the fracking process could cause on the environment.

“The science is clear: fracking is a leading contributor to our climate emergency. It is destroying our land. It is destroying our water and it is wreaking havoc on our communities' health,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We must do our job to protect our future from the harms caused by the fracking industry and its methane emissions.”

More:New Mexico lawmaker proposed fracking ban, added reporting that could cost state billions

Sen. Tom Udall

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said he would not support the bill if it made it to the Senate, and efforts to stop the process of fracking would not address the environmental impact of oil and gas as well as stronger regulations on operations, such as policy to curb methane emissions and other efforts to gradually transition from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

“New Mexicans want protection for their air, water, and public health, and for special places like Carlsbad Caverns and other public lands that support recreation and wildlife habitat,” he said.

“There is no denying that oil and gas production from federal lands has contributed significantly to New Mexico’s economy, but there is also no question that oil and gas production — whether using hydraulic fracturing or not — carries with it negative environmental impacts, including air and water pollution and effects on public health.”

More:New Mexico activists question governor's climate change goals amid Permian Basin oil boom

Under the act, an immediate federal ban on all new federal permits for fracking infrastructure would be imposed, along with a ban on the use of fracking within 2,500 feet from home and schools by 2021.

By 2025, the act would completely ban fracking across the country.

The bill would also provide a framework to transition workers out of the fracking industry, by calling on the federal Department of Labor to partner with other federal agencies and local communities and labor organizations.

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“We must realize that workers in the fracking fields are not the enemy, coal miners are not the enemy, and oil rig workers are not the enemy. Climate change is the enemy. As we transition to 100 percent renewable energy, we must come together to ensure a just transition for all fossil fuel workers,” Sanders said.

“Fracking is a danger to our water supply. It’s a danger to the air we breathe, it has resulted in more earthquakes, and it’s highly explosive. To top it all off, it’s contributing to climate change. If we are serious about clean air and drinking water, if we are serious about combating climate change, the only safe and sane way to move forward is to ban fracking nationwide.”

More:Study: New Mexico would lose billions if fracking banned, oil and gas leads economic growth

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small said she would not support the bill, as a ban on fracking would cut off an essential supply of public dollars to New Mexico to pay for public schools and other services.

I’ve consistently opposed a fracking ban because if we shut down oil and gas drilling in New Mexico today, we’d have to shut down our schools tomorrow,” Torres Small said.

“I will continue to support responsible energy production in the district, including one of the country’s largest sources of oil and gas in the Permian Basin.”

A report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute found such policies could cost New Mexico 142,000 jobs or 15.8 percent of the state’s workforce and eliminate $86 billion in cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) through 2025.

More:New Mexico works 'proactively' with oil and gas after earthquakes tied to fracking in West Texas

A ban on fracking could also cause New Mexicans to lose $26 billion in household income, the report read, at an average of $10,723 per household in 2025.

The State would also lose $8 billion in state and local tax revenues during that time, read the report, and federal government tax receipts would drop by $8.3 billion.

Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association argued that fracking was proven a safe process.

More:What is fracking? Here's a list of commonly used vocabulary from the oil and gas industry

He questioned the awareness of the oil and gas industry by lawmakers supporting the Act.

“Most of the representatives who are supporting this are from areas that don’t see oil and gas or are familiar with the process,” McEntyre said. “(A ban) would be devastating to New Mexico and to our industry. They don’t have this industry in their districts so they’re not able to see how it works in the real word.”

New Mexico Democrat Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland opposed past proposals by Democrat presidential hopefuls to implement a nationwide ban, as did U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

“There’s no question we should be moving away from fuels that contribute to climate change. However, outright bans risk unintended consequences like shifting production to places like Venezuela and Russia,” he said.

“A better way to reduce our carbon emissions is to set clean vehicle standards that transition the passenger vehicle market to electrification, and we need to put a price on carbon.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.