CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Democrat front-runners for the party’s presidential nomination have promised to ban oil and gas leasing on federal lands if elected.
That has caused some concerns in New Mexico, where the industry is the largest contributor to the state’s economy — whether on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management or state trust land.
The industry was credited for billion-dollar surpluses in recent years, with much of that funneled to educational initiatives.
U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a southern New Mexico Democrat who is running for re-election, told the Carlsbad Current-Argus that she opposes a full ban on oil and gas activities. Instead, she wants energy production to be done responsibly while minimizing environmental harm.
“It’s important for me to be an advocate for the work that is happening in southeastern New Mexico in producing energy and making sure that New Mexico continues to be a net energy exporter and making sure that we’re doing it in a responsible way,” she said.
“I know that if we were to shut down oil and gas drilling in New Mexico today, we’d have to shut down our schools tomorrow, statewide,” she said.
Torres Small said southeast New Mexico would play a crucial role in achieving and maintaining America’s energy independence and thus increasing national security by limiting U.S. reliance on adversarial countries.
“I know the effects it would have on our bottom line. But I also know the impact it would have on our country and our national security when it comes to having a strong, ready domestic source of energy,” Torres Small said of the proposed bans being floated by some Democratic front-runners.
Oil and gas companies already signaled they are willing to address the industry’s environmental impact, Torres Small said, with companies developing new technologies to increase water recycling and reuse, along with methane capture and cutting carbon emissions.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was a strong proponent during her campaign of using oil and gas revenue for education. During her first year in office, she has continued to acknowledge the industry’s role in generating revenues for the state’s coffers.
Nora Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Lujan Grisham planned to call on a potentially Democrat White House to adopt a more “flexible” approach to fossil fuel development allowing states to decide for themselves if drilling would be permitted and how they would transition to renewable energy.
Lujan Grisham signed bills into law this year that were geared toward transitioning to 100% carbon-free energy by 2045 and increasing the state’s renewable energy portfolio.
For Torres Small, responsible production means increased funding for agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and increasing the efficiency of permitting and building infrastructure such as pipelines and storage tanks.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, another New Mexico Democrat, said the federal government must set policy to reduce emissions not only from oil and gas production, but also automobiles to reduce pollution.
He said the U.S. should move away from fossil fuels, but not with outright bans.
“As an engineer, I am certain that our capacity to confront the climate crisis rests heavily on our ability to make policy driven by facts, by data, and by the best available science,” he said.
The senator said he would be concerned that a ban would risk unintended consequences like shifting production to places like Venezuela and Russia.
New Mexico’s senior U.S senator, Tom Udall, said a transition to renewables could be achieved with stricter guidelines on hydraulic fracturing and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The smart path for New Mexico,” he said, “is to support strong safety and environmental standards on oil and gas production to protect our air and precious water resources today, while recognizing that fossil fuels are finite resources that we cannot rely on forever, and that have real consequences for climate change.”