HOBBS — When it comes to energy, New Mexico apparently provides the right backdrop.
Both Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama chose the big oil and gas basin in the southeastern corner of the state this year to stake out plans for national energy policy.
Romney outlined his energy policy in Hobbs on Thursday, and the Democratic president spoke about energy in Maljamar, about 43 miles west of Hobbs, in March. Their approaches differ, but their mutual choice of Lea County and the Permian Basin for key energy speeches underscored election-year attention to domestic production of oil and natural gas.
New Mexico ranked sixth in crude oil production in the United States in 2011 and accounts for 10 percent of U.S. natural gas production, according to the Department of Energy. The industries employed more than 12,000 people in 2009, according to the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
Romney, whose plan for North American energy interdependence focuses heavily on oil and gas production, said Thursday that the federal government needs to get out of the way when it comes to drilling on federal lands in states like New Mexico, where more than half the state’s oil and gas wells are on federal lands.
“Three million jobs come back to this country by taking advantage of something we have right underneath our feet. That’s oil and gas and coal, and we’re going to make it happen. We’re going to create those jobs,” Romney told a crowd of about 400 in a back lot of Watson Truck and Supply, a Hobbs company that serves the oil and gas industry.
Romney said the U.S. needs to take “advantage of our energy resources — our oil, our coal, our gas, nuclear, renewables, wind, solar,” but his clear emphasis in the Hobbs speech was on the goal of expanding energy production from fossil fuels.
Obama in March touted an “all-of-the-above” energy plan that he said promotes oil and gas drilling on federal lands when it’s done safely while investing in renewable energies and requiring improved vehicle fuel efficiency.
Romney said the Obama administration has used environmental and safety regulations to delay fossil fuel production on federal lands. To prevent that federal delay, he said, states should be the ones to regulate oil and gas development on federal lands within their borders.
“On state lands and private lands, state regulators have streamlined their permitting processes, their evaluation and environmental processes, safety processes. They found a way because we compete, states do with one another, they found a way to do a job in a more efficient way,” Romney said. He said states including North Dakota and Colorado typically issue drilling permits on state land in less than 30 days, while the federal government requires an average 307 days.
Romney also emphasized the need to expand offshore drilling, invest in energy research and partner with Canada and Mexico in an effort to help achieve North American energy interdependence by 2020. That effort could add $500 billion to the national economy, Romney said.
Obama has said that under his watch, U.S. natural gas production increased to an all-time high and domestic oil rose to a 14-year peak. Critics, however, say those gains happened on state and private lands while production on federal lands has declined because of regulation.
Responding on Thursday to Romney’s remarks in New Mexico, the Obama campaign said the new push to get states to stand in for federal regulators is merely an effort to provide Romney’s oil and gas industry supporters a “rubber stamp” on their future drilling plans.
“Mitt Romney’s energy plan is simply doing the bidding of Big Oil,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.
“What Mitt Romney outlined (in Hobbs) was not a recipe for energy independence,” Cutter said. “It’s just the same old scheme to help line the pockets of Big Oil.”
Former U.S. Energy Secretary Federico Peña, speaking on behalf of the Obama campaign, said Romney’s proposal to put federal lands under state regulation is not “a very workable idea” because industry would resist pressure to comply with 50 different sets of regulations. States currently enforce their own regulations, like New Mexico’s so-called pit rule, for drilling on state and private lands.
While Romney emphasized his plans to create new domestic oil supplies from increased drilling activity, the Republican presidential candidate jabbed Obama for using federal funds to support unsuccessful renewable energy companies like Solyndra, a solar company that received $535 million in federal guaranteed loans before going bankrupt last year.
“I don’t want the government investing in companies, particularly in companies of his campaign contributors. I want instead to have our government investing in basic science and research, finding new sources of energy and also finding more ways to be more efficient in our use of energy,” Romney said.
In response, the Obama campaign said the U.S. can never reach energy independence solely by increasing drilling for fossil fuels. Instead, development of the renewable energy industry is critical, campaign officials said Thursday.