Randy VanDenBerg, left, the district operations manager of WPX Energy s San Juan Basin Operations, speaks with Sen. Tom Udall during the senator s visit
Randy VanDenBerg, left, the district operations manager of WPX Energy s San Juan Basin Operations, speaks with Sen. Tom Udall during the senator s visit Monday to WPX Energy in Aztec. The senator, D-N.M., also visited a natural gas facility in Lybrook and the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority s data center in Shiprock. (Ryan Boetel The Daily Times)

AZTEC — Sen. Tom Udall is pushing for the U.S. to speed up the process for exporting liquefied natural gas, which could reverse the local trend of declining natural gas production.

On Monday, Udall was in San Juan County, where he met with energy officials at WPX Energy in Aztec and toured a natural gas facility in Lybrook to discuss the state of New Mexico's oil and gas industries. He also toured the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority data center in Shiprock.

New Mexico natural gas production has steadily declined in recent years as the cost of natural gas has decreased. In 2005, the U.S natural gas wellhead price was $7.33 per thousand cubic feet, and, in 2012, the price was $2.66 per thousand cubic feet, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

To reverse the local decline, the U.S. could streamline the process of exporting natural gas to countries without free-trade agreements with the U.S, said Randy VanDenBerg, the district operations manager for WPX Energy in the San Juan Basin.

The Rio Grande Foundation, an Albuquerque-based economic policy advocacy group, reported in a study that if the U.S. started to export natural gas to countries without free-trade agreements, such as Japan, it would provide an immediate $200 million boost to the state's economy and create 2,000 jobs.

"It's a big opportunity for us to be able to export natural gas," said Udall, D-N.M., at WPX Energy on Monday. "There are a lot of applications that are pending, and we urged (U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz) to look at them and move those along."

Udall was part of a bipartisan group of senators this summer that urged Moniz to approve those trade agreements. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has also voiced support for a quicker process to export natural gas.

Moniz has said the energy department will continue to evaluate the effects those exports would have on the domestic price of natural gas, as well as the environmental effects of those trades, before approving them.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., speaks on Monday during his visit to WPX Energy in Aztec. Also on Monday, the senator visited a natural gas facility in Lybrook and
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., speaks on Monday during his visit to WPX Energy in Aztec. Also on Monday, the senator visited a natural gas facility in Lybrook and the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority s data center in Shiprock. (Ryan Boetel The Daily Times)

VanDenBerg said WPX Energy will continue to produce less and less natural gas until there is a change in price.

WPX Energy was the seventh-largest natural gas producer in the state last year. In 2012, WPX Energy produced 47,762,680 Mcf of natural gas, which was down from 53,426,243 Mcf in 2011. An Mcf is a volume of 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas.

Natural gas production in northwest New Mexico and the rest of the state is on a decline, said Steve Henke, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

"We've seen a decline in wells, and there hasn't been new drilling in the San Juan Basin because of the price of natural gas," Henke said. "There's tens of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas still to be developed and marketed in the San Juan Basin. It's just a matter of the pricing scenario."


Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.