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Crank it up!

Less money, mo’ problems: welcome to the 2009 legislature.

January 14, 2009, 12:00 am

The issues: In 2008, environmental and NIMBY anti-drilling activists in north-central New Mexico scored major victories against oil, in many cases fully impeding even exploration. County governments in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Mora counties passed moratoria on new oil wells. Meanwhile, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Departments’ Oil Conservation Division passed some of the strictest (and most costly) regulations in the country for drilling-operation waste pits.

In the 2009 session, it’s the oil industry’s turn to push back. The New Mexico Oil & Gas Accountability Project is telling activists to prepare to play defense. Deregulation is almost certainly on the agenda.

The politics: Already, Sen. Carroll H Leavell, R-Eddy, has introduced SB 17, a bill that would negate all local government authority over drilling operations and make it the sole responsibility of the state’s Oil Conservation Division. That would mean that what’s good for oil-friendly Farmington would also hold for oil-hypersensitive Santa Fe. Combine that with a budget measure similar to last session’s, when oil interests attempted to gut the Oil Conservation Division’s budget, and suddenly there’s no real oversight.

Rep. Jim Trujillo opposes drilling in the Galisteo Basin, but is looking to spur oil production.“The idea that we have somehow over-regulated natural resources, oil and gas in particular, and we need to pull back from that regulation—I think that’s the wrong approach,” Wirth, who served on the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee, says. “I think what we’ve seen on Wall Street is an example of what happens when you don’t have balanced regulation and oversight.”

But the Democrats don’t have a united front on this issue. Although Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, opposes drilling in the Galisteo Basin, as vice chairman of the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee, he wants to consider rewriting the pit rule in order to spur oil production.

“I kinda agree that it should be a legislative issue,” Trujillo says. “Because it’s so expensive to implement, we’re hindering the production of more oil. I don’t want to contaminate water, but I want to see data. I want to see the hard proof.”

More drilling means more revenue for the state budget, so only time will tell whether that will trump environmental interests with the new Democratic makeup.

The opportunities: “We’re at a bit of a disadvantage, whereas the oil and gas industry lobbyists…there are several of them, and they’re able to be there each and every single day,” Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project Executive Director Gwen Lachelt says. “We’re at this point trying to boost our capacity so we can have that kind of presence.”

In late 2007, local anti-drilling activists developed an online alert network in order to round up crowds to attend public meetings on the Galisteo Basin. A year and a quarter later, is still the best way to keep up-to-date on public hearings. You can also join their Listserv by shooting an e-mail.

Other important clearing houses of information are the Oil & Gas Accountability Project’s Web site and Common Ground United’s legislative and call-to-action pages.

Related Features:
Politics Online—Keep up with the Legislature, virtually
What it’s Wirth—Santa Fe’s freshman senator talks transition

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