A bill that would institute a four-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New Mexico has been introduced in the state legislature and is raising questions about the impact such a proposal would have on the nation’s third-largest oil producing state.

The bill, SB 459 calls for New Mexico’s Department of Energy and Natural Resources to “halt the issuance of new permits allowing hydraulic fracturing for the purpose of extracting oil or natural gas” until 2023.  In the interim, various agencies are required to study different aspects of the practice and report their findings back to the governor.  State Senators Antoinette Sedilla Lopez (D) and Benny Shendo (D) introduced the bill.

“I would immediately expect that if this legislation were to pass, you would see the mass exodus of both large and small oil and gas producers away from New Mexico to other states,” Jim Winchester, Executive Director of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico (IPANM), told Western Wire.   “Essentially, not only is this a deal breaker in the ability to use the latest techniques to extract oil and gas here in New Mexico, but it would essentially isolate us as a state that would be an island that would not be capable of retrieving this resource.”

Winchester points out that 45 cents of every dollar in New Mexico state revenue comes from the oil and gas industry.  Thanks to a boost of production activity in the Permian Basin, which is located in the southeastern region of the state as well as West Texas, revenues have dramatically risen in the past few years.  In 2018, BLM New Mexico saw $972 million generated on bonus bids for oil and gas lease sales.

“The economic livelihood of almost all of Lea County’s workforce of 30,000 people is directly or indirectly tied to the oil and gas sector. The proposed moratorium on fracking would not only devastate our economy and the finances of our local governments and school districts, but the economy and finances of the entire State of New Mexico, particularly its school districts, colleges and universities,” R. Finn Smith, chairman of the Economic Development Corporation of Lea County, said in a statement.

Proponents of the moratorium argue that fracking needs to be more closely studied based on possible environmental or health impacts.

“We have to do whatever we can to protect our environment. This is not against oil and gas. The whole oil boom is the result of fracking. People are just getting informed about what that means. At the moment, there are a lot of questions,” Shendo said according to the Carlsbad Current Argus.

But Winchester says that concern is not based on facts on the ground.

“Fracking has been used and is a proven extraction technique that’s been in place for over 70 years and it’s been done so safety without contamination to groundwater,” Winchester told Western Wire. “It’s been well-stated that there has not been documented case [of contamination] in the history of using hydraulic fracturing in New Mexico.  Furthermore, we continue to see that modern well construction design has proven that there are very reliable levels of safeguards in place between the geologic layers underground, specifically safeguards in place to protect aquifers and groundwater and surface water.”

This is not the first time a ban on fracking has been considered in the West.  During the 2017 legislative session, Nevada’s Assembly passed a bill that “prohibits any person from engaging in hydraulic fracturing in this state.”  The proposal ultimately died in committee in the State Senate.

Colorado has grappled with balancing booming oil and gas operations within population-dense areas.  In recent years, the state has navigated through several lawsuits stemming from local moratoria passed by municipal governments and city councils.  In 2016, the Colorado State Supreme Court ruled that local bans by the cities of Longmont and Fort Collins were preempted by state law and not permitted.

The state has also faced several ballot initiatives that address oil and gas operations.  Most recently, Proposition 112, which was defeated at the ballot box, would have increased state setbacks to 2,500 feet and by some estimates put 85 percent of non-federal land off limits to drilling.

In New Mexico, SB 459 is one of several climate policies up for consideration during the state’s 2019 legislative term.  Last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D) unveiled a series of executive orders that include setting renewable energy goals, instituting emissions reductions and joining the U.S. Climate Alliance. The U.S. Climate Alliance features 17 governors from states across the country, including California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, who have pledged to meet Paris Agreement goals and push for state level policies that “reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy deployment.”

Regarding the fracking moratorium, Winchester says IPANM is taking it seriously but ultimately, “we certainly oppose it.”