Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., says he is "tremendously encouraged" after seeing the cooperation between the Bureau of Land Management's Carlsbad Field Office and the oil and gas industry in Lea and Eddy counties.
He said what has been achieved in the Carlsbad office is a template for other BLM offices around the country.
Udall stopped in Carlsbad Wednesday on his swing through southeast New Mexico.
In 2005, the Carlsbad BLM Field Office became one of three pilot offices that were given additional staff and resources to speed up the permitting process for oil and gas companies and provide environmental oversight.
Udall said of the three BLM sites chosen as pilot offices, "Carlsbad is delivering."
Jesse Juen, BLM state director, said using the new technology available to local BLM offices, the application and permitting process times are much shorter and that's saving money for BLM and the oil and gas industry.
Jerry Mathews, of Devon Energy, told Udall that "Carlsbad (BLM) is the most effective office I have dealt with."
The oilmen who attended the round-table discussion with Udall said that, for years, the oil and gas industry had an adversarial relationship with the local BLM office. But that began to change about the time the office became one of the pilot offices. Today, they and the BLM staff work as partners.
"We learned a lot from the industry," Juen said. "Sharing data is among the things we have learned. It's a huge time saver for all of us."
Jerry Fanning, Devon senior regulatory affairs advisor based in Artesia, told Udall that while the relationship with the local federal agency is a good one, the industry does not need more federal regulations.
"We have enough regulations in New Mexico. We don't need more," he said.
One of the regulatory concerns is the issue of fracking, Fanning and fellow oilmen said.
A slang term for hydraulic fracturing, fracking refers to the procedure of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted.
Fracking has resulted in many oil and gas wells attaining a state of economic viability due to the level of extraction that can be reached.
Fanning said fracking is not a new procedure; it has been used by the industry since the early 1920s. However, since then, the oil and gas industry has gone through a huge technological evolution.
Jim Brown, Yates Petroleum chief operating officer, said the fracking technology is far ad-vanced from the 1920s.
Amanda Trujillo, Yates Petroleum environmental scientist, said the equipment today is "cutting edge," and the technology has advanced so much that drillers can target specific big zone areas and conduct multi fracking operations.
She said the two main concerns people have related to fracking are earthquakes and water con-tamination. Trujillo said in Eddy County, fracking operations are generally conducted at depths from a minimum of 3,000 feet to 10,000 feet.
Udall said oil and natural gas production is a foundation of the state's economy and he supports the industry. He said the industry is responsible for 16,715 jobs and contributes 27 percent of the state of New Mexico's general fund.
He says he supports maintaining the long-standing tax treatment of the independent producers that form the foundation of the state's oil and gas production. He said he voted against a measure that would have impacted smaller, independent producers.
Addressing the local BLM office's role in the current oil boom in Eddy County, Udall said the local office is one of the busiest BLM offices in the nation.
Udall noted that since 2006, realty actions in the oilfields have doubled from 500 actions to about 1,000 annually. In addition, permits to drill have increased from an average of 750 in 2010 to more than 900 in 2013.
He told BLM staff and oil and gas industry representatives that in order to ensure the local office has the staff and resources it needs to continue to effectively process permits and provide critical environmental oversight, he plans to introduce legislation to extend funding for the pilot program that he said has delivered extra revenue to the BLM office in Carlsbad.
In a fact sheet handed out by Udall's staff, he notes that Eddy and Lea counties account for almost 30 percent of the on-shore oil produced on federal lands. He also notes that crude produc-tion from federal lands in the state is at its highest level in decades.
In 2011, 112 million barrels of oil were produced in New Mexico, making up about 6 percent of total U.S. crude production.
Land-lease prices, plans to drill and well completions are at or near all-time highs. He also said that decline curves show new wells are producing more oil than older wells did in the past.
Although the topic mostly centered on oil and gas production and the working relationship be-tween the industry and the BLM in Carlsbad, Udall also touched on the issue of the sand dune lizard - which avoided being listed as an endangered species - and the prairie chicken that is coming up for possible listing.
Jim Stovall, BLM Carlsbad Field Office manager, said the conservation agreements formed with a number of state and federal agencies, the oil and gas industry and the ranching industry played a huge role in the battle and victory of stopping the listing of the lizard.
However, the prairie chicken issue is different. While the lizard's habitat is primarily in south-east New Mexico, the prairie chicken makes its home in several states, which don't have conservation agreements.
"We were a major player in the lizard issue, but we are a minor player in the prairie chicken proposed listing," Stovall said.
The oil and gas industry says if the prairie chicken were listed as endangered, it would be detrimental to it, the state and local economy.