FARMINGTON — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez made three different stops in San Juan County on Thursday to announce a new partnership, celebrate completion of a plant's expansion and sign two bills into law.

Navajo Allottee Agreement

Gov. Martinez started her day by announcing a new partnership between the state, San Juan College and Bureau of Indian Affairs Federal Indian Minerals Office that would expedite the leasing process for allottees on Navajo tribal lands.

"With advances in horizontal drilling, their land value has greatly increased, and they have the potential to receive large royalties by leasing their resource-rich land to energy companies," Martinez said, reading from a prepared speech at San Juan College.

Gov. Susana Martinez signs Senate Bill 119 on Thursday at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington.
Gov. Susana Martinez signs Senate Bill 119 on Thursday at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

More than 170 people attended the ceremony at the college.

The plan would place students from the San Juan College's School of Energy in the federal Indian leasing offices, where allottees and officials said there is a bottle neck, to assist with leasing paperwork. Nearly 300 leases from allottees are in the process of being approved, said Dan Fine, with the state with the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Fine said he estimates that leases could bring up to $3,000 per acre for allottees who want to open their land for oil production. When the allotment process started allottees were given 160 acres.

Fine estimates that the Gallup play could be worth as much as $200 million in lease payments and royalties for allottees.

He added that this is the first partnership of its kind in the nation and that other states with federally recognized tribal lands could use this type of partnership as a way to solve their issues. He mentioned the Osage Tribe in Oklahoma and tribes in North Dakota that have similar issues with the slow federal leasing process.

Allottee Grace Begay, 70, said she hopes that people will use money from leases to build a stable life.

Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, listens Thursday as Gov. Susana Martinez speaks at the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington
Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, listens Thursday as Gov. Susana Martinez speaks at the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

"Your grandkids need an education and you need to get them the things they need," she said after the announcement was made. "They (allottees) need to build good homes."

Praxiar Build Completed

Praxair marked the completion of its $15 million expansion with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the company's Kirtland facility. The expansion expects to support more than 200 jobs, Martinez said.

"We welcome Praxair's investment, and new jobs created through improving the state's tax and regulatory climate," she said.

The Fortune 250 company's investment is estimated to generate 216 jobs — 139 direct jobs in construction and capital equipment industries, 31 indirect jobs in supplier industries and 46 "induced" jobs based on the indirect job creation, Martinez said.

Gov. Susana Martinez speaks Thursday before signing Senate Bill 119 and House Bill 144 at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington.
Gov. Susana Martinez speaks Thursday before signing Senate Bill 119 and House Bill 144 at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

San Juan County Commissioner Margaret McDaniel said the expansion of Praxair is a good indicator for the future of the oil industry in San Juan County because drillers use the liquid nitrogen supplied by Praxair to bring oil to the surface.

"It's a positive sign," she said.

Speeding up Nurse Licensing

Martinez concluded her public schedule at San Juan Regional Medical Center where she signed two bills into law.

She penned Senate Bill 119, which speeds up the licensing process for out-of-state nursing professionals wanting to come to New Mexico.

"Any nurse practitioner who wants to come to our beautiful state and help us meet the dire health care needs of our communities will be licensed in five days or less under this legislation," Martinez said before signing the bill.

Gov. Susana Martinez honors Rep. Tom Taylor, a Republican who represents San Juan County, on Thursday at a bill signing ceremony at San Juan Regional
Gov. Susana Martinez honors Rep. Tom Taylor, a Republican who represents San Juan County, on Thursday at a bill signing ceremony at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington. (Jon Austria/ The Daily Times)

Terri Fortner, chairwoman of the New Mexico Board of Nursing and local nurse practitioner, said the bill would help fulfill the states' nursing needs, including in rural areas.

"This way, people can get into the communities," she said.

Suzanne Smith, San Juan Regional Medical Center chief nursing officer, said the new law will help but the hospital hires graduates from San Juan College to fill nursing positions.

"Eighty percent of graduates apply at San Juan Regional. We have a pipeline," she said.

Rep. Tom Taylor, a Republican who represents San Juan County, sponsored the bill in the House. Taylor said the bill will attract nursing professionals who will be needed to meet the anticipated demand created by Affordable Health Care Act and the expansion of Medicare.

"There will be much higher demand," he said.

The other bill Martinez signed also was sponsored by Taylor.

Taylor, who sponsored that bill as well, said the legislation was intended as part of a reform of the commission after it came under scrutiny when one of the former commissioners pleaded guilty to fraudulent use of a credit card and identity theft in 2011.

Erny Zah is The Daily Times business editor. He can be reached at 505-564-4638.and ezah@daily-times.com. Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.