The final auction of public land to the oil and gas industry in New Mexico was held Thursday, the final sale of leases to land used for fossil fuel production under the administration of President Donald Trump.
Trump lost his bid for reelection in November, and former-Vice President Joe Biden was to be sworn in on Jan. 20.
Biden vowed during his campaign to halt new leasing of federal land for oil and gas activities, which could mean an end to the Bureau of Land Management’s quarterly sales.
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Scheduled for Jan. 14, the BLM’s latest sale sought to lease 37 parcels of federally-owned public land in New Mexico, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma – about 6,848 acres, per BLM records.
In New Mexico, the BLM planned to offer 720 acres in Eddy County on six parcels and about 5,220 in Lea County on 26 parcels, while offering 500 acres in Wise County, Texas and 320 acres in Decatur County, Kansas.
About 5,900 acres in New Mexico were sold on the 32 parcels, bringing in about $3.9 million.
In Oklahoma, 88 acres were offered on three parcels in Coal, Kingfisher and Major counties.
In total, the BLM reported the sale made about $4.1 million, with the highest bid per acre going to PBEX, LLC at $15,101 per acre for an 80-acre tract in Lea County.
That same parcel also had the highest total bid per parcel at about $1.2 million.
The BLM’s policy is to promote oil and gas development if it meets the guidelines and regulations set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and other subsequent laws and policies passed by the U.S. Congress,” read a statement from the BLM.
“The sales are also in keeping with the America First Energy Plan, which is an all-of-the-above plan that includes oil and gas, coal, strategic minerals, and renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, and solar, all of which can be developed on public lands.”
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Under the incoming Biden administration such auctions could come to an end, amid long-standing criticism of Trump’s efforts to establish the U.S. as leader i
Biden’s Plan for a “Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” as described on his website said the administration would “ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands and water” while also adding stronger emissions controls and increasing royalties on existing oil and gas activities to account for climate impacts.
A recent study from the Wyoming Energy Authority publicized by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association reported such actions could deplete New Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) by $207.7 billion in the next 20 years, costing 36,217 jobs between 2021 and 2024 and $12.5 billion in oil and gas investments in the state.
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“Any proposal restricting oil and gas development on federal lands would devastate New Mexico and result in the elimination of thousands of jobs, massive cuts in support for public education, and a greater reliance on foreign energy imports,” said the Association’s Executive Director Ryan Flynn.
“Our state depends on oil and gas to fund schools, put teachers in classrooms and help our young children learn.”
The recent downturn in the fossil fuel market, drew concerns that public land was being sold to the industry at lower rates, meaning taxpayers did not get their “fair share” of the revenue.
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Last year U.S. Senators from oil-producing states New Mexico, Montana, Nevada and Colorado announced a series of bills intended to ensure oil and gas leases were sold for more lucrative rates, end the sale of lands with low potential for production and expand public input and update bonding procedures.
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) who introduced a bill in February 2020 to update what he called the U.S.’ “antiquated” public lands royalty system increasing rates that remained the same since 1920 when the Mineral Leasing Act was first passed.
“After one hundred years of the Mineral Leasing Act, it is high time for real reform that gives state and federal taxpayers their fair share of royalties that fund important education, infrastructure, public health and environmental needs in communities across the country and particularly in the West,” Udall said in a statement upon the bill’s introduction.
“Public lands and their natural resources belong to the American people, and it’s only fair to ask those who profit from them to return a fair share to taxpayers.”
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New Mexico environmental groups sided with efforts to reform federal land leasing, aiming to hold Biden to account for promising made on the campaign.
James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children said the Jan. 14 sale continued the pattern of selling public land to industry without ensuring the people of New Mexico get an adequate return.
He said he hoped the Biden administration could reverse course.
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“This lease sale is being conducted under an antiquated system, which prioritizes the bottom line of oil and gas companies instead of New Mexico taxpayers, which shortchanges New Mexicans by undervaluing oil and natural gas assets,” Jimenez said.
“The Biden Administration has the opportunity to work with Congress to reform this antiquated system so that our communities and public lands are protected.”
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Jess Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation said the Trump administration’s focus on increase fossil fuel activities not only added risks to the environment but also subjected the country and oil-producing states to the volatile boom-and-bust nature of the industry.
“The Trump administration’s deeply flawed ‘energy dominance’ agenda has done little to safeguard New Mexico’s economy while letting oil and gas CEOs abuse the outdated federal leasing system at a cost to everyone else,” Deubel said.
“I hope President-elect Biden takes this chance to work with Congress to institute common sense reforms as soon as possible.”
David Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship said the sale was the Trump administration’s final “fire sale” to an industry he said the former president and his cabinet supported above the needs of the environment and people of America.
“We are all far poorer today after the Trump administration’s latest–and last–fire sale of this nation’s public lands and mineral wealth to special interests,” Jenkins said.
“This lease sale was a final parting gift to oil and gas speculators from a regime that has, for the past four years, catered to their every whim–fleecing American taxpayers, and states like New Mexico, in the process.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: New Mexico holds final sale of federal land to oil and gas under Trump administration
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