The strength, courage and dedication of our current political leaders as they work to address the complex issues of the day is admirable. As a registered Democrat whose livelihood is immersed in oil and gas, I am unique. And yet I appreciate the commitment of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Biden administration to combat climate change.
In our family-run business, we dedicate ourselves not for personal riches, but for our employees and their families. We are certainly not “Big Oil,” nor are we hoarding permits, but we do take pride in our community and our contribution to it.
Already, we have seen the immediate impacts of President Joe Biden’s executive order to pause oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal lands. We had brought one of our drilling rigs – which directly employs 25 people and accounts for 100 more indirectly – into action but recently laid it down due to the pause.
These well-paying and inclusionary jobs, the kind of which are critical in northwest New Mexico, are now on hold indefinitely.
Due to the president’s action, there is no effective or predictable way to obtain permits or approvals in the foreseeable future. This uncertainty could kill the drilling project forever, and the jobs right along with it.
Our story is not unique; it appears to be on constant repeat across the country. I fear for our business survival, our employees, and for the hardships facing those we are not able to employ.
During her confirmation, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said she “will work (her) heart out for everyone: (including) the families of fossil fuel workers who help build our country.” Seemingly, Haaland recognizes that every oil and gas worker is essential and they sacrifice so all others can keep their lights on, heat running and drive their cars.
I can only hope Haaland, and our leaders in state and federal government, don’t overlook the plight of our communities. It is not about the thousands; instead, it is about the individuals. There are people waiting to be called to action, waiting for the pause to be over and wondering why their jobs are being sacrificed.
While the debate in Washington advances, our family-owned business remains ready to put people to work. As our family-owned business goes, so goes the ability of friends, family and neighbors to pay their bills and make ends meet.
As New Mexicans, we support the idea of a cleaner future and have a tradition of implementing strong environmental safeguards. Yet, federal leasing and permitting delays have dire implications within our community. We can’t even begin to think about the long term when putting food on the table tomorrow is in jeopardy.
As Haaland said, “There is no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.” Certainly, this is true; and most likely natural gas will elevate in significance as we transition to net zero by 2050. As we collaborate and find the balance, I pray our leaders will stay committed to a developing a comprehensive energy portfolio that respects people – especially those in critical industries like oil and gas.
I trust that Haaland remembers, and understands, that the weight of her decisions is carried upon the shoulders of each and every oil and gas worker, their families and their children; as she proudly represents New Mexico as our next secretary of the Interior. Our future depends upon it.
Jason Sandel, a Farmington native, has served on the Farmington City Council, chairman of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association and the Methane Advisory Panel. He is currently a member of the New Mexico Economic Recovery Council, a co-convener of the New Mexico Energy Transition Committee, Chairman of the Western States and Tribal Nations Natural Gas Initiative, and a member of the Roosevelt Project.