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Lea urges N.M. to fight oil lease ban

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LOVINGTON — Lea County officials want New Mexico, the nation’s third highest oil production state, to join other states fighting President Joe Biden’s moratorium on federal oil leases.

Lea County is the nation’s No. 1 oil producer among counties, with more than 50 percent of oil production coming from federal lands.

At a recent meeting of the board, county commission chairwoman Rebecca Long said, “All of the western states are very up-in-arms about this because it’s very harmful to their counties and it’s very harmful to their states.”

A total of 14 U.S. states, not including New Mexico, filed lawsuits in March against the administration, challenging Biden’s moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, according to the news agency Reuters.

“I think we’re all in agreement on this,” Long told her fellow commissioners after reading a proposed resolution urging New Mexico’s involvement in the lawsuits.

“Oil and gas is important. Even Gov. (Michelle Lujan) Grisham is pushing back against the Biden administration on this moratorium,” Long concluded before the unanimous vote to approve the resolution.

New Mexico could lose nearly three-quarters of $1 billion over the next few years if it sees even a modest reduction of oil and gas production due to the federal government’s actions to curb leasing on public lands, Gov. Lujan Grisham warned in a letter sent to President Biden in March.

Lea County’s resolution states in part, “Oil and gas development contributed $2.8 billion in revenue to the State of New Mexico during fiscal year 2020 that accounts for about one-third of the State’s total spending …”

The resolution cites New Mexico Department of Taxation and Revenue data between December 2019 to November 2020 showing $9,475,891,605 in the value of oil and natural gas produced in Lea County, with the state receiving more than $661,679,291 in direct taxes from oil and gas production and equipment.

“We’re seeing this as a position the state would need to make to be on a level with the other states,” Commissioner Jonathan Sena said to Long. “Previously, as you alluded to, the governor has expressed concern about what’s happening with what the Biden administration is doing. This is a way to say okay, ‘Governor, this is how we can actually put that concern into practice.’ I hope the state will move forward with this.”

Initially beginning with a 60-day “pause” in oil and gas leases on federal lands, the President issued an executive order in late January directing the Department of the Interior, led by his appointee and former New Mexico congresswoman Deb Haaland, to perform an review of the oil and gas leasing program.

With no end date given for the review, experts began using terms like indefinite moratorium and ban on leases, rather than the original “pause” cited by the President.

In late March, Haaland opened up a public forum inviting participants including industry representatives, labor and environmental justice organizations, natural resource advocates, Indigenous organizations and other experts.

“The pause in new oil and gas lease sales gives us space to look at the federal fossil fuel programs that haven’t been meaningfully examined or modernized in decades,” Haaland said. “I want to be clear that the pause on these lease sales does not impact permitting and development on valid existing leases. Further, oil and gas companies have amassed thousands of permits to drill on 38 million acres of public lands and oceans – an area larger than the state of Iowa.”

As invited, New Mexico Oil and Gas Association board of directors chairman Leland Gould provided comments to Haaland, alluding to environmental concerns that he believes can be alleviated through the technical expertise of oil and gas industry without harming the nation’s world leadership in energy production.

“We share President Biden and Secretary Haaland’s urgent priority to mitigate the risks and limit the impacts of climate change,” Gould said, “and the United States can and should address that priority while also embracing the technologies and inventiveness oil and gas producers utilize to become cleaner, more efficient, and more environmentally sound.”

Also responding to Haaland’s request for comments, officials of the American Petroleum Institute warned, “Policies aimed at slowing or stopping oil and natural gas production on federal lands and waters will ultimately prove harmful to our national security, environmental progress, and economic strength. National energy demand will continue to rise and it is imperative that, as much as possible, the energy we use comes from right here in the United States.”

An Albuquerque Journal editorial board opinion published in February tends to support Lea County’s position:

“We need our governor and congressional delegation to stand up for all of the state’s energy workers, and all taxpayers. New Mexico has more at stake than any other state amid this national discussion on energy policy — the Wall Street Journal points out the moratorium will hit us hardest, at $946 million — because of our heavy reliance on federal lands for drilling, as opposed to neighboring Texas where almost all oil production takes place on private lands.

“New Mexicans need elected leaders to carefully weigh and support all state interests before the oil field spigots are turned off and jobs and revenues dry up,” the Journal’s editorial board concluded.

Encouraging New Mexico’s involvement in the litigation against the Biden administration, Lea County’s resolution concludes, “(A) moratorium would lead, among other situations, to increased unemployment, underfunding of public schools, underfunding of health care, underfunding of infrastructure, and increases in energy costs to all residents of New Mexico.”

Curtis Wynne may be contacted at reporter3@hobbsnews.com.

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