U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) warned recent federal policy could imperil the oil and gas production in New Mexico and thus threaten the state’s economy through one of its largest industries.
Herrell said she hoped the Republican Party could take back a majority in Congress following 2022’s general election and would then begin the work of reducing regulatory burdens she said encumbered the industry’s growth.
In Tuesday’s primary election, voters chose incumbent Herrell’s Democrat opponent in November’s general election where she is seeking a second term in the seat she won in 2020.
The Congresswoman’s comments came during a June 2 public meeting held in by the Energy, Climate and Conservation Task Force in Hobbs which included local elected officials from southeast New Mexico, Republican members of Congress and oil and gas industry officials.
She said the industry supported up to 100,000 jobs in New Mexico and provided about 46 percent of the state’s budget.
“It truly is about national security and everything else,” Herrell said. “What we’re doing is getting the information we need from around the nation to make good policy decisions.”
The Task Force was formed last year to support the energy industry by GOP U.S. House members and at the meeting discussed its developing plan to create policy to address national fuel shortages which it said led to rising energy costs for Americans and reliance on foreign energy sources, a problem compounded by actions by the administration of President Joe Biden and his Democrat Party.
Lea County Commissioner Rebecca Long said oil and gas was critical to the local communities throughout the region, and advocated for policy she said should support fossil fuels.
She said the industry supported up to 18,000 jobs in the county.
“We don’t have lakes, rivers or forests, but we have oil. In Lea County, you’re sitting in the number one producer of crude oil,” Long said before the task force. “We live in an awesome place, but we wouldn’t be here without oil. It’s generational. Oil drives everything we do here.”
New Mexico’s Second Congressional District, which Herrell represents, contains southeast New Mexico’s Permian Basin region which is the U.S. most active oilfield shared with West Texas.
Industry analysts contended that as more than half of New Mexico’s oil production in this region, which includes Hobbs and Carlsbad, occurs on federal public land as opposed to mostly private on the Texas side of the basin, federal environmental policy could disproportionately affect New Mexico.
New Mexico Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54) of Artesia said Democrat-led policy was based on falsehoods such as reports of rising air pollution emissions he argued were being mitigated by advancements in technology developed by the oil and gas industry.
The Republican Party must take on defense of the industry, Townsend said, to prevent economic declines and to support local communities.
“I think it’s going to be required of us to do more than we’ve ever done before. We can no longer defend ourselves in retreat,” he said. “We’re going to have to take our message and prove it.
"We talk about emission rates going up, but we forget to say that our volumes have increased four-fold. We’re going to have to change the narrative.”
Upon taking office in January 2021, the Biden-led Interior Department placed an indefinite pause on new leases of public land to the industry while it reevaluated its fossil fuel program, a move roundly criticized by the industry and its supporters.
A subsequent injunction filed in federal court blocked the halt last year and ordered sales to resume, which an auction for about 500 acres of land leases in southeast New Mexico planned for June 16 by Bureau of Land Management.
Kayley Shoup, organizer with Carlsbad-based environmental group Citizens Caring for the Future said the federal government needed to take stronger action to protect the environment from continued extraction in the Permian Basin and across the country.
She said if the industry was allowed to continue to grow, it could mean more extreme weather events like the wildfires already plaguing the state this spring and early summer.
“Families in Southeastern New Mexico are desperate to hear solutions from leaders like Rep. Herrell about what they are doing to protect us from the negative impacts of oil and gas, from the toxic air and water pollution surrounding us, to the cost of housing and the dangerous conditions of our roadways,” Shoup said in a statement.
“We welcome with open arms a serious conversation about protecting New Mexico’s air, land, water and wildlife from the effects of fossil-fuel driven climate change.”
Shoup pointed to a recent report from New Mexico-based O’Donnell Economics and Strategy that showed the industry holds about 426,260 acres of leased but unused federal public land in New Mexico, arguing the pause on new leases and stronger environmental analysis was likely a small cost energy companies could pay to reduce devastating pollution.
“We don't need leaders such as Herrell touting false solutions just like we don’t need more policies that prop up big banks and out-of-state oil executives,” she said.
“We need serious solutions from new and forward thinking leaders to deal with an industry that will do us more harm than good in the long run."
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: GOP hopes 2022 election can strengthen defense of oil and gas