SANTA FE — An environmental group issued a report Thursday saying the oil and gas exploration system known as fracking is draining precious water from New Mexico and polluting the state's land and air.
"For public health and our environment, we need to put a stop to fracking," said Sanders Moore, director of Environment New Mexico, which is affiliated with the national organization that authored the study.
Soon after the report was made public, an oil industry spokesman and a politician in oil-rich southeastern New Mexico said it was unfair and its criticisms overblown.
Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing of underground rock formations to unlock oil and gas from them.
Moore said two-thirds of New Mexico remained drought stricken, even after a summer of heavy rains and flooding in certain spots. Yet, she said, fracking since 2005 had used 1.3 billion gallons of fresh water in New Mexico.
Entitled "Fracking by the Numbers," the report was filled with other statistics about pollution.
It said that fracking in New Mexico generated 3 billion gallons of toxic wastewater last year, caused 9,810 tons of air pollution and had "degraded" 8,900 acres since 2005.
"The numbers don't lie. Fracking has taken a dirty and destructive toll on our environment," Moore said.
Wally Drangmeister of the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association and Eddy County Commissioner Jack Volpato said in separate interviews that fracking had not polluted the state, contrary to the report's many assertions.
The study was built on "a lot of generalities, half-truths and even misstatements," Drangmeister said. "It may be a valuable tool for fundraising with their list (of subscribers), but it is not a serious attempt at improving public policy."
He pointed to a section of the report that said New Mexico had "743 instances of all types of oil and gas operations polluting groundwater -- the source of drinking water for 90 percent of the state's residents."
Drangmeister said not one of those cases involved fracking. More important, he said, the industry promptly cleaned up all 743 spills, avoiding what he called "the potential to pollute groundwater."
"We're not saying there weren't problems, but in every case, no matter how big or small, there was mitigation," Drangmeister said.
Volpato said Eddy County and the rest of southeastern New Mexico's oil country had ridden an economic boom while much of the country struggled. He said a socially responsible oil and gas industry that used fracking was responsible for his region's prosperity.
"We're very satisfied with it. We have not seen any kind of contamination," said Volpato, a Republican.
But, he said, he shared one concern the environmental report raised: use of fresh water for fracking.
"It does use a lot of water, but we've been blessed with aquifers and we try not to use drinkable water" in oil exploration, Volpato said.
From a national perspective, fracking helps reduce American dependence on foreign oil and it probably is more palatable to environmentalists than coal production, Volpato said.
In Eddy County, where Carlsbad is the biggest city, fracking had helped create an impressive economy, he said.
"We're at 2 percent unemployment, and we're building large-scale public projects without any bond issues and without incurring any debt," Volpato said.
He said he expected construction to start next year on a $15 million beltway around the city and an $8 million sheriff's complex, all without any borrowing.
Environment New Mexico's report criticized not only fracking as an industry method but New Mexico state government's regulation of it.
The report's findings came only months after the New Mexico Oil and Gas Commission weakened regulations that protected groundwater from fracking waste.
The old rule required oil and gas companies to secure waste pits with a synthetic liner or use a closed container. Moore said there were more than 400 cases of contamination from oil and gas waste before the rule went into effect but none afterward.