New Mexico can't abandon oil and gas

Sep 27, 2020 10:39 AM

Matthew Gonzales, Santa Fe New Mexican l September 27, 2020

New Mexico is blessed with a wealth of traditional fuels, mineral, and renewable energy resources, from substantial oil and natural gas reserves, abundant sunshine and wind to a significant portion of America’s uranium reserves.

When we embrace all that our state has to offer, New Mexicans benefit on several critical economic fronts that enhance our financial health. Among them: lower utility bills and high-paying energy jobs plus lower tax rates and enhanced community services as energy-related revenues boost state and municipal coffers. In the age of COVID-19, this is good news for small businesses and industries as well as families, especially low-income households.

Here’s the bad news. If adopted, a threatened ban on oil and gas leasing on federal land would have an immediate and devastating impact on New Mexicans’ lives and livelihoods. Consider that thanks to oil and gas, energy production funds nearly one-third of our state’s economy. And for over 100,000 New Mexicans with energy-related jobs, their average annual salary is $72,505 — more than $25,000 higher than the average salary in the state.

This November, oil and gas leasing is on the ballot. If such leasing is phased out as promised in the Democratic platform, New Mexico would be the big loser. Nearly half of the state’s oil and gas production occurs on federal land. The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association figures such a ban would cost the state 62,000 jobs by 2021 and more than $1 billion in federal revenue.

Higher natural gas prices that almost certainly would follow a ban will hurt New Mexicans in their pocketbooks. And from 2006-16, as natural gas supplies grew and prices declined, New Mexico families and businesses saved more than $3.4 billion.

As for the high-paying energy jobs that would be threatened or lost, roughly 27 percent of the top 40 highest-paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree is related to the energy industry. Among them: power distributors and dispatchers with a median annual wage of $81,900; powerhouse electrical and electronics repairers, $75,670; power plant operators, $74,690; electrical power-line installers and repairers, $68,010; and gas plant operators, $67,580.

We all favor efforts to expand our state’s clean energy future, but we have to consider how we sustain our economic growth responsibly. New Mexicans love this state, which means we can all get behind sensible, realistic, and environmentally responsible solutions to meet our energy needs. However, the idea that we can immediately drop traditional fuels and rely just on renewable energy is ludicrous. Instead, we must continue to rely on traditional fuels while we move steadily to produce cleaner energy.

Thankfully, we are already diversifying our energy portfolio while producing the cleanest energy on the planet during a time of record production. Here in New Mexico, emissions of key air pollutants and greenhouse gases have declined significantly across the state.

Look at it another way. What if someone insisted you throw out your bed and sleep on the floor for the next decade because you’re getting a spectacular new bed in 2030? Absurd, right? But it’s an apt analogy. We need a transitional period to enable new, breakthrough technologies to help us realize a clean energy future.

Like our beds, we use energy every day. It helps power every imaginable American industry and supports our nation’s supply chains. During this time of great economic uncertainty, it is the most important ingredient for a robust, fast-growing business environment.

As responsible New Mexicans, we owe it to ourselves to ask and consider good questions before we start throwing out things without having something solid to fall back on just yet.