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Federal energy lease bans based on false premise

All three remaining candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination say they would end leasing of federal land for energy development, including oil and natural gas, if elected. Not only would this be disastrous for the New Mexico economy, but the policy is based on the false premise we can’t protect public lands while also pursuing responsible development.

New Mexico’s recent economic success, however, proves we can do both at the same time: A newly released study shows our state’s outdoor economy has been growing alongside the oil and natural gas boom that is producing record revenues and budget surpluses for the state (“NM’s outdoor recreation is thriving,” Feb. 22 Journal.)

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show outdoor recreation added $2.3 billion to the state economy in 2017, an increase of 11.4% from 2012. Employment attributable to the recreation industry grew 3.2% to 33,486 since 2012, while employee compensation increased 13.7% percent to $1.17 billion.

Much of this economic growth is dependent on public lands, including our many state and national parks, national forests and state trust lands. For example, the economic impact of visitors to New Mexico’s national park sites grew 67 percent to $152 million between 2012 and 2018, resulting in 650 new jobs.

At the same time, the amount of oil and gas developed in New Mexico has grown dramatically – also to great benefit to our families, state budget and economy. As a result, we’re now the third-largest producer of oil and ninth-largest producer of natural gas in the nation.

Production of oil in New Mexico nearly quadrupled from 86 million barrels in 2012 to 339 million barrels in 2019. Natural gas production increased by about 50 percent during the same time period to 1.82 trillion cubic feet in 2019.

More than 52% of oil and 62 percent of natural gas development in New Mexico takes place on federal lands, which means the more than 100,000 jobs supported by oil and natural gas in New Mexico are dependent on responsible use of our public lands.

However, of 27.6 million federally owned acres in New Mexico, only about 17 percent are leased for oil and gas activity.

State revenues have climbed in conjunction with increased energy development. New Mexico raked in $3.1 billion from the oil and gas industry in 2019, and we have another $800 million budget surplus. The new revenues have been put to use to increase education funding, raise teacher and state employee salaries, build new roads and provide new equipment for first responders across the state.

We want to protect the pristine landscapes that we all cherish – from the Gila Wilderness and Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the south to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and San Juan River Quality Waters in the north – but we also support growth and a strong economy.

The data show New Mexico’s balanced approach to our public lands is working by allowing outdoor recreation and the related economy to thrive while also generating record revenues through oil and gas development that support all our communities.

We are blessed to have an abundance of natural beauty and energy resources on the public lands in New Mexico. If the Democratic presidential candidates were to look at our state, they would realize their proposals to end leasing for energy development on federal lands are based on a false premise that would greatly harm our economy and communities.

New Mexico can protect its public lands while continuing to grow in energy, outdoor recreation, and all other sectors that are creating a brighter future for our great state.

New Mexicans for Economic Prosperity is a coalition of chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, trade associations, and other non-profit groups from across the state. Learn more at

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