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Dated oil, gas leasing system shorts NM

As COVID-19 puts stress on so many aspects of our economy, our government and our communities, it is important that elected officials take this opportunity to strengthen the safeguards we have in place to protect our social and economic well-being. Unfortunately, the system we have in place to protect our public lands from oil and gas drilling – places like Chaco Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns – and our communities that depend on our public lands to provide drinking water, clean air and recreation opportunities is broken and in dire need of reform. …

The federal oil-and-gas-leasing system is a relic from the past and consists largely of policies that were set decades – and, in some cases, a century – ago. It does not account for, nor adequately protect our public lands and our air and water resources from modern drilling technologies, which have advanced considerably in recent years, or reflect the growing economic importance of outdoor recreation. As a consequence, this antiquated system no longer supports the needs of communities like Santa Fe County and many others across New Mexico and the West.

The problems with the system are wide-ranging and include inadequate bonding rates, which are supposed to protect taxpayers and deter irresponsible companies from winning drilling rights on public lands. Most of these rates have not been updated since the 1950s, and taxpayers are now on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs for wells abandoned by bankrupt oil companies. Additionally, for over 100 years, companies have been paying the same low rate to drill and produce oil from public lands. This has prevented taxpayers from earning their fair share of revenues from public lands drilling – revenues that in New Mexico, as in many other states, fund schools and essential services. This means our residents across the state are experiencing tighter budgets with less money to fund crucial programs that improve our community.

The outdated federal oil-and-gas-leasing system also poses a direct threat to New Mexico’s $9.9 billion outdoor recreation economy, which supports nearly 100,000 jobs and is becoming increasingly important as communities in our state look to diversify and become less dependent on proceeds from oil and gas production. This has become particularly problematic … as the Bureau of Land Management, which manages millions of acres of public lands in New Mexico, has prioritized “energy dominance” and drilling over protecting national parks and recreation areas.

It is clearly past time to reform our federal oil-and-gas-leasing system so it reflects 21st century economies and values. Luckily, there are already many efforts underway in Congress to do just this. Earlier this year, N.M. Sen. Tom Udall introduced a bill with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley to help ensure when companies drill on public lands, taxpayers are getting their rightful share. And just last month, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet introduced a bill that would modernize oil and gas bonding rates and provide funding to clean up orphaned wells on public, tribal and other lands – including over 700 that have been identified in New Mexico. …

Part of my responsibility is to ensure all levels of government are working on constituents’ behalf. … That is why I call on Congress and the U.S. Department of the Interior to do everything to make this system work for all of us, not just oil and gas.

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