Down To The Wire For Steyer-Backed Nevada Fracking Ban
A final decision on a bill to ban hydraulic fracking in Nevada might come down to the wire before the end of the Nevada state legislative session early next week. Even if passed, the bill would require a signature from Republican Governor Brian Sandoval.
The bill, AB 159, which “prohibits any person from engaging in hydraulic fracturing in this state,” passed the Nevada Assembly by a vote of 26-15 last Friday. If the bill is signed into law, Nevada would become the fourth state, and first in the West, to ban the drilling procedure, following Maryland, New York, and Vermont. The bill awaits a vote in the Senate Natural Resources Committee and final approval from the Senate.
“No amount of regulation that can be implemented to eliminate the harmful effects that this practice has on human health,” said Assemblyman Justin Watkins (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor. “It endangers our air, our water, and our earth.”
Scientists and proponents dispute such claims, particularly in the face of research showing no environmental harm from the industry. A United States Geological Survey (USGS) study released this week showed that fracking did not pose a significant threat to drinking water.
“Hydraulic fracturing is extremely safe,” Nevada geologist Bill Ehni told the Senate panel on Tuesday. “The modern techniques that we use for fracking is probably cleaner and more safe than conventional techniques.”
Ehni said that a ban would drive his clients out of the state.
“Fracking is one of the critical tools in oil and gas exploration. If you were to decide to build a house, I’d like to ask you, which tool would you like to leave out?” he said. Watkins has said fracking is a “huge risk” for “no gain” for Nevada. Writing last month in the Las Vegas Sun, Watkins said fracking posed a “significant threat to our state’s scarce water supplies,” but also said that the threat to the economy was minimal, citing limited oil and natural gas development throughout the state.
In March, Western Wire was first to report the fracking ban bill sponsor’s ties to California billionaire Tom Steyer, whose donations quietly targeted the Nevada legislature in 2016 among other more high profile races in the state. Steyer and his wife, Kathryn, gave $70,000 to five Nevada legislative candidates, including $10,000 to Watkins. In 2014, Steyer supported a ban on fracking in his home state.
Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) praised the state’s work on regulating fracking during committee testimony.
“I think we did a good job. If we’re going to see some oil production we have to have that tool in the toolbox. It does work,” said Goicoechea.
The senator said he was not willing to write off production in this state if the procedure was banned in Nevada.
Nevada added a slate of stringent fracking regulations in 2014 ahead of a 2015 deadline. Among the new regulations were chemical disclosure requirements for hydraulic fracturing wells to FracFocus.org, an extra layer of steel pipe for well bores, and baseline and post-drilling water monitoring within one mile of wells.
Sen. James Settelmeyer (R-Minden) responded to claims that the economic impact was minimal, saying that with more than 1 million acres under lease in eastern Nevada, “these [leases] help these small ranches survive.”
Steve Walker, a lobbyist for the Eureka County Board of Commissioners, stated simply: “Fracking would be a significant part of the economy,” and expressed the county’s opposition to the bill.
“It’s going to cost the state millions of dollars in revenue,” with leaseholders abandoning Nevada, said Paul Enos, representing the Nevada Trucking Association and the Nevada Petroleum and Geothermal Society. He said much of the state’s oil and gas potential would become inaccessible without fracking.
Nevada has struck a “great balance with the regulations currently in place between the environment and the responsible extraction of that resource,” Enos said.
Testimony in February in the Assembly’s Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee estimated Nevada school revenues from taxes and fees associated with fracking at more than $800,000 with further revenue endangered if a ban is passed.
Western Energy Alliance, a group representing western oil and natural gas companies and a supporter of Western Wire, estimated losses from a fracking ban could endanger more than 1,100 jobs in Nevada, and result in a $242 million reduction in state economic activity, including nearly $40 million in state tax revenues from production associated with oil and gas.
A total of five wells in the state have used hydraulic fracturing, according to the Nevada Division of Minerals. The first well was drilled in 2014, but there are no active hydraulic fracturing operations underway in Nevada, according to the Nevada Mining Association, which has taken no position on the bill.
John Snow, a member of the Nevada Commission on Mineral Resources, called the 2014 regulations the “gold standard” of good governance. There is “no doubt our existing regulations are very good to handle hydraulic fracturing in the state of Nevada,” Snow said.
Richard Perry, administrator for the Nevada Division of Minerals (NDOM) said the Nevada regulations on fracking were “amongst the most stringent in the U.S.” and quoted others who have praised the regulations as “practical, transparent, and effective.”
“There were no accidents or environmental incidents” at any of the fracked wells, according to NDOM field inspectors, said Perry. “Required pre- and post-hydraulic fracturing water samples of nearby wells sampled indicated no groundwater contamination.”
There was also no movement of fracturing fluids and no recorded induced seismicity due to reinjection of water, according to NDOM. Perry compared the reinjection of water from oil and gas production to the 50 billion gallons a year reinjected by geothermal energy production, saying the latter “dwarfs” oil-related water reinjection in Nevada.