News Column

Anti-fracking Bill Dies in NM Senate

March 5, 2013

Chuck Slothower, The Daily Times, Farmington, N.M.

New Mexico landscape (file photo)
New Mexico landscape (file photo)

State Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, helped kill a bill Saturday that would have banned hydraulic fracturing on horizontal wells in New Mexico.

Sharer made a motion during a raucous hearing to table the bill, effectively killing it for the 2013 legislative session.

"It's done," he said.

The bill was proposed by one of Sharer's colleagues on the Conservation Committee, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces. It would have banned the use of multistage hydraulic fracturing on horizontal oil and gas wells. Soules said he had not made a decision on whether to pursue the issue in future sessions.

That would have had far-reaching effects throughout the state. A legislative analysis estimated the state would have lost at least $48.3 million annually from reduced royalties and $40.5 million from bonuses collected by the State Land Office.

Virtually all new oil and gas drilling in the state, both in the Permian Basin and in the San Juan Basin, is derived from horizontal wells in combination with hydraulic fracturing, a legislative analysis said.

A ban on horizontal drilling would halt exploration of the Mancos Shale, a geologic layer in the San Juan Basin thought to be rich in oil. Encana Corp. drilled nine exploratory wells south of Bloomfield in 2012, and other companies are in various stages of exploration.

All of those wells involve horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing is also known as "fracking." The process

involves injecting highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to break apart rock and release oil.

The technique, along with horizontal drilling, has dramatically increased natural gas production in the United States but it has drawn strong criticism from some environmentalists.

Farmington oil and gas executives say the controversy has little relation to reality in the San Juan Basin.

"It's extremely frustrating for people like myself and others that are in the oil and gas business because fracking has been around for a long, long time and it's one of the techniques that we use to be able to economically produce oil and gas reserves from the ground," said T. Greg Merrion, president of Merrion Oil and Gas, an independent Farmington producer.

Merrion said he is unaware of any instance where fracking has contaminated freshwater in the San Juan Basin.

"The fracks that are taking place are taking place at least 1,000 feet below the freshwater aquifer, and more often than that five or six thousand feet," he said. "It's not even feasibly possible for these fracks to communicate with these shallow freshwater aquifers."

Soules, a freshman legislator and high school math teacher, said Monday he wants to protect the state's watershed in undeveloped areas and help move the state toward renewable energy.

"Some of the areas that are currently being considered (for drilling) are areas very much in our watershed," he said.

Soules amended his bill to exempt the San Juan and Permian basins from the ban, essentially neutering the bill by removing its effects from where most drilling in New Mexico occurs.

The amendment passed, but the committee voted to table the bill.

"I think we had a very good discussion," Soules said. "Some of the people who are my supporters made it into a little bit more of a rally than I would have liked. I was a little upset with them, because I don't think that moves forward the discussion at all."

Sharer said fracking opponents simply don't get it.

"They don't understand," he said. "It's just a more productive way to get whatever you want out -- it's just a huge benefit."

He added, "There are certainly people who hate oil and gas and coal and energy resources of any kind. I don't understand that. There seem to be people who are hell-bent on freezing to death in the dark."



Source: (c)2013 The Daily Times (Farmington, N.M.) Distributed by MCT Information Services