Putting Oil/Gas Off-Limits Bad Move for Wrong Reasons

Hydraulic fracturing drilling rig in the Permian Basin in West Texas. The Permian Basin is in the northwestern part of Texas and the southeastern part of New Mexico. Oil has been recovered for decades in the area. The fracking industry recently revived production and the area is experiencing a new oil boom.
Given the challenges facing New Mexico’s economy — and with the price of gasoline on the rebound — we at the Rio Grande Foundation expressed our view that the citizens and political leadership in Sandoval County should have given SandRidge Energy a fair hearing over their desire to drill an exploratory well in the county. Unfortunately, that did not happen and SandRidge left.

Now, out-of-state environmental groups including Food and Water Watch, the Sierra Club, and Environment New Mexico are pushing a complete moratorium (five years in duration) on oil and gas drilling within Sandoval County. These groups are philosophically opposed to the traditional sources of energy that fund one-third of New Mexico’s budget. There are no unusual issues with drilling for oil and gas in this part of Sandoval County, rather there is a political opportunity to capitalize on fear of the unknown to advance their anti-energy agenda.

It is time for the citizens of Sandoval County to push back against any such ban and support jobs and economic opportunities for their friends and neighbors.

The oil and gas industries in Sandoval County alone generated $25.8 million (according to 2013 data from the New Mexico Tax Research Institute). That’s the production value alone, not including the so-called “multipliers” and other follow-on impacts.

The anti-frackers nearly hyperventilate in opposing the use of “hydraulic fracturing” in order to access new sources of oil and gas, but must rely on fear and ignorance to generate public opposition.

The Obama Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly found “fracking” to be safe. Indeed, the process has been in use since the 1940s. If it was a flawed or dangerous process, there would have been large numbers of serious issues by now.

A three-year study by the University of Cincinnati determined hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has no effect on groundwater. Unfortunately, when asked if the university planned to publicize the results, Dr. Amy Townsend-Small, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology and the leader of the study, said there were no plans to do so.

Said Townsend-Small of the University’s decision, “I’m sad to say this, but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping this data could lead to a reason to ban it.”

The science doesn’t support a ban on fracking, but neither does the law.

A January 2015 federal district court decision found Mora County’s ban on oil and gas drilling to be illegal. It is likely that a similar fate would befall a ban enacted in Sandoval County. The legal wrangling alone could cost the county millions of dollars.

Of course, economic losses would only grow if those already doing business in the county decided to take a “wait and see” approach toward engaging in further drilling in the county.

Jobs in New Mexico’s oil and gas industries are some of the best “working-class” jobs in New Mexico.

Our state continues to struggle with job creation and an exodus of young people. It is unbelievable that the majority of citizens in Sandoval County would prefer to see young people — their kids and grandkids — leave New Mexico rather than allow for an industry that New Mexico relies upon to be shunned for no good reason.

Sandoval County is unique — within the Albuquerque metro area — to have significant oil and gas deposits. Putting them off-limits would be a bad move made for the wrong reasons.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility