COMMENTARY: Since my announcement in April in opposition to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s proposed venting and flaring rules on oil and gas producers, I have not surprisingly become the target of a well-coordinated negative campaign being pushed in paid advertising, social media and the press by at least a dozen special interest groups – including Conservation Voters of New Mexico, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, HECHO and the out-of-state Western Values Project.
Former Land Commissioner Ray Powell has since added his voice to the debate with a recent guest column in the Albuquerque Journal. Sadly, Powell’s criticism of my stance on BLM’s proposed regulations says more about his ambitions to run again for land commissioner in 2018 than they do about his concern for our State Trust Land beneficiaries, which include public schools, universities, hospitals and other important institutions.
Contrary to Powell’s claims, I have demonstrated quite publicly over my past year and a half in office that I am a vigorous proponent of generating revenue for our beneficiaries – even when it has proven to be politically unpopular.
Powell says that BLM’s proposed regulations are “sensible.” In reality, these new rules will significantly decrease income to the agency, which will directly translate into lost revenues for public schools. The correlation is quite simple: Regulations cost money. If there were a cost-effective way for oil and gas producers to capture every molecule of natural gas that is currently being vented or flared, I believe that the industry would be doing it already.
If BLM’s proposed rules are implemented, the Land Office will most likely see a large-scale abandonment of oil and gas wells on State Trust Lands, with marginal wells being pushed beyond their economic thresholds. This would be followed by a wave of bankruptcies from small oil and gas companies; we’ve already seen at least two dozen such bankruptcies in the past year.
I would hope that even Powell could run the numbers on abandoned wells and determine how much they would contribute in royalties to our public schools – zero. This is why fiscally responsible Democrats such as State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg and State Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen have also commented in opposition to the new federal regulations.
In addition to methane capture, BLM’s rules seek to impose limits on flared gas from oil production. The irony of the proposed rule is that a local task force charged with identifying key reasons for venting and flaring of natural gas in New Mexico named a lack of access to rights-of-way for pipelines on federal lands – lands managed by BLM – as a major contributor to venting and flaring within the state.
A right-of-way on federal land takes an average of six months to a year to process, and many have been in the queue longer than that. By just expediting their pre-existing right-of-way workload, BLM could address venting and flaring in New Mexico in a short amount of time without imposing new regulations.
Powell himself knows a thing or two about regulatory delays. When he departed the Land Office, he left behind over 500 pending right-of-way applications – with some dating back to 2010. In contrast, my administration has decreased pending right-of-way applications by nearly 75 percent and turnaround times have decreased to only 60 days.
It goes without saying that Powell and I have very different perspectives on how to run the Land Office. I am in favor of conserving our lands through better management, not increased regulations. There should be no doubt that I am solidly in favor of preserving our State Trust Lands for future generations and increasing revenue to public schools and other beneficiaries. I have formed my stance on BLM’s proposed regulations by examining the economics and engaging with key stakeholders – not by choosing a position based on future political ambitions.
Aubrey Dunn, a Republican, is New Mexico’s land commissioner.