The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently delayed a planned leasing auction of more than 2,000 acres in the Chaco Canyon region intended for much-needed oil and gas development. Originally slated for October, the auction will be postponed, per reports, until at least January.
If it happens at all.
For the sake of New Mexico, let’s hope it does – the sooner, the better.
That’s because this is the latest setback for an industry that plays a major role in the manufacturing of just about everything that touches our lives on a daily basis. That includes the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the shampoo we use, the carpet we walk on, the medication we take, the tires we drive on and the food we eat.
It’s also a homegrown industry that, according to experts, produces nearly 30 percent of New Mexico’s general fund – the primary source of funding for the operating costs of public schools and higher education.
That’s also a major slice of the funding that goes to pay for fire protection, law enforcement and rescue services; sanitation; libraries; expenditure projects like parks and road improvements; and many of the programs and municipal services we lean on, including state public welfare programs, environmental protection, tourism, state-led economic development efforts and many other functions of state government.
These are dollars we simply cannot live without.
Regrettably, the State Land Commission recently said that revenues from the sale of oil and natural gas leases on New Mexico trust land have dropped to their lowest level in years – in part because of low oil prices, but more because of cumbersome regulations and unnecessary burdens to energy development.
And communities are starting to hurt.
Just look at the city of Aztec’s general fund, projected to drop about 11 percent from last fiscal year because of substantial declines in the oil and gas revenues.
Look at San Juan County, which has seen a 47 percent drop in such revenue since 2009. That has led to a loss of 9,000 jobs – a 17 percent reduction in the region’s workforce – and the closing of 7,500 operating wells. San Juan College, meanwhile, is working to close a budget deficit of about $1.38 million.
The Farmington Municipal School District is also tussling with its own budget shortfall, of about $4 million.
These are all unfortunate examples as to why Consumer Energy Alliance recently submitted a petition with more than 650 signatures to agency director Neil Kornze asking the BLM, which governs 13.5 million acres of state land, to reconsider its decision to delay the Oct. 19 lease sale and hold the sale as originally scheduled. Approximately half the signers reside in or around northwestern New Mexico.
By postponing the lease sale, the BLM is adding more economic strain to a state that is already under duress. You already know the line of communities struggling to make ends meet, but consider this: While the U.S. employment rate is below 5 percent, the state’s rate, as of May, hovered around 6.2 percent. New Mexico’s construction unemployment rate is also the worst in the U.S.
Scratching the lease sale also ignores the fundamental role that natural gas has had in reducing carbon and other pollutant emissions in recent years. Case in point: Upticks in hydraulic fracturing have led to a 47 percent increase in low-carbon shale gas production, which in turn has lowered the industry’s carbon emissions by 21 percent.
See? Local energy production has been a clear-cut win-win for everyone in New Mexico – you, me, your neighbors, teachers, police, firemen, small businesses and jobs, the economy, even the environment. If only the BLM could see that.
Let’s hope they soon do.