Groups today delivered a resounding message to the New Mexico State Land Office: To protect New Mexico’s economy and environment, the oil and gas industry must be reined in.
The New Mexico State Land Office held an online hearing today to adopt an emergency rule that would allow oil and gas companies to stop producing from oil and gas wells on state public lands. In light of a severe decline in oil prices, the rule would let companies forgo production and shut in economically unviable wells. More than 150 people attended the online hearing, with countless more unable to get into the virtual platform because of bandwidth issues.
The Western Environmental Law Center, representing a dozen New Mexico organizations and WildEarth Guardians, Food and Water Watch, and others submitted technical comments to the State Land Office calling for increased oversight and management of oil and gas amidst declining returns on investments for state trust beneficiaries and activities exacerbating the global respiratory pandemic, COVID-19.
The groups acknowledged the merit in the temporary—and potentially long-term—cessation of extracting continued oil and gas, but urged increased protections for New Mexicans as oil prices plunge to their lowest level in 22 years while the state faces a $1 billion loss in related oil and gas revenue, amidst a tsunami of industry bankruptcies.
“For our health and economic stability, New Mexico leaders must chart a transition away from fracking and oil and gas,” said Ally Beasley, attorney for Western Environmental Law Center. “We understand the emergency nature of this rule, and now is the time to diversify New Mexico’s economy, not create loopholes and bail out polluters. New Mexicans require protection as the industry collapses.”
“While the whole world is dealing with a public health crisis, the oil and gas industry is looking for another bailout to continue fracking forever,” said Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “These proposed rules respond to the current economic collapse but fail to consider the fact that the State of New Mexico is actually losing money by allowing more oil and gas extraction, while contributing to toxic pollution and climate change.”
“While a step in the right direction, we’re asking Commissioner Garcia Richard to adopt rules that don’t just allow companies to stop production, but that require the shut-in and environmental cleanup of wells that are economic losers for New Mexico,” said Margaret Wadsworth, senior organizer for Food and Water Action. “Fracking is not only fueling the respiratory pandemic and putting frontline communities at risk, the oil and gas industry is holding New Mexico’s economy hostage to losing returns.”
Supporting the proposed rule, groups also recommended that the State Land Office require operators who voluntarily shut in wells provide assurances that wells will be properly plugged, and abandoned with full environmental remediation in the event that shut-ins become permanent or lessees end up in bankruptcy. The groups urged the Commissioner to minimize the damage to New Mexico as a result of the oil and gas industry’s collapse and help the state move toward reliance on more sustainable and prosperous forms of revenue.
The New Mexico State Land Office has scheduled a lease sale of more than 3,000 acres of state land for fracking April 21.