SANTA FE – After more than three decades, there’s a pump jack in front of the State Land Office again.
It was delivered on Wednesday and installed in front of the office on Old Santa Fe Trail at the direction of Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn.
“It’s symbolizing the first well on state trust land and the first dollars produced” for the state, said Dunn, who watched as a huge oil field crane deposited the pumping unit in a small garden area.
It replaces a piece of state-owned public art that the previous land commissioner, Ray Powell, had selected for the site: a large brick sculpture of a head imprinted in multiple places with the word “Hope.”
Dunn asked state officials to remove it after he took office in January. A Republican rancher in Lincoln and Chaves counties, Dunn defeated Powell, a Democrat, last year with strong support from the oil and gas industry.
The last time there was a pump jack on display in front of the Land Office, it led to a two-year court battle. City officials sued about 35 years ago, claiming the pump jack violated the historical-styles ordinance.
The Land Office won that fight; the state Supreme Court ruled the city ordinance didn’t apply to state property. But the pump jack was removed anyway; it’s now on display at Expo New Mexico.
“This is a kinder, gentler pump jack,” said Terry Warnell, director of the Oil, Gas and Minerals Division at the Land Office.
The new pump jack is a smaller version of the previous one, standing about 6 feet high when it’s fully extended. It’s new; Dunn said he paid Yates Petroleum Corp. of Artesia $250 for it out of his personal money. Yates, an independent company that is among New Mexico’s biggest producers, picked up the rest of the cost of the purchase and painted a red Zia symbol on it – “a little bit of New Mexico flair,” said Yates’ chief operating officer, James S. Brown.
Dunn said it will be hooked up to solar power to make its arm move for demonstration purposes.
Dunn said the pump jack commemorates the first commercial oil well on state lands, drilled in 1924 by Martin Yates and partners Van Welch and Tom Flynn. Yates’ family runs Yates Petroleum and other oil companies. That well provided the Land Office with its first royalty payment and kicked off the oil business in New Mexico. It produced more than 7,000 barrels before it was plugged 40 years later.
Today oil and gas provides about 97 percent of the State Land Office’s revenue.
The new pump jack was greeted with excitement by the Land Office staff, but some bystanders weren’t impressed.
“Is this a good public image to have? … It’s like a step backwards,” said Anastacia Romero, a biochemistry student at the University of New Mexico and a restaurant worker. She said the Land Office ought to promote solar power and other renewable energy sources.