FARMINGTON — Local oil and gas industry operators reacted today to the election of GOP nominee Donald Trump to the Oval Office with optimism that a Trump administration will mean less-restrictive drilling regulations, resulting in increased production.
“On a personal level, I’m nervous about what (Trump) is going to do, the wake he’ll leave,” said George Sharpe, investment manager for Merrion Oil and Gas. “But as a nation, the system needed shaking up. It seems like we’ve been treated as the enemy as opposed to a partner in developing industry, paying taxes and employing people.”
Sharpe added that while he didn’t necessarily believe the motive of the Obama administration was to drive oil and gas companies out of business, that is exactly what has been happening.
“With all the hassles and regulation burdens, some (oil and gas) companies haven’t been sure they want to be in the business anymore. I’m glad we won’t have to worry about that for the next four years,” he said.
Tom Dugan, president of the Dugan Production Corp., echoed Sharpe’s optimism.
“Hillary (Clinton) didn’t like fracking and coal mines — if she had gotten in, Farmington would shut down and blow away,” Dugan said. “We have a chance now, and I think the industry will come back quicker.”
John Byrom, business development manager for Pesco, an oil and gas industry equipment manufacturing company, said the San Juan Basin should benefit from a Trump presidency because much of the drilling in the basin is on federal land.
“In the last eight years, there’s been growth in private and state development, but development has shrunken on federal lands because it’s much more difficult to drill there, (due to) the Obama administration increasing the number and severity of regulations on the industry,” Byrom said. “Under a Trump administration, these regulations may not necessarily be rolled back, but the onslaught of new regulations might end, allowing the San Juan Basin to be able to survive in this competitive market.”
Daniel Fine, associate director of the New Mexico Center for Energy Policy, predicted that Trump will be choosing his transition team on energy within the first 100 days of his presidency. He believes that during that time period, the team will be doing a comprehensive review of policies, including those involving industry regulation. Fine hopes the administration will begin to reduce regulation in the San Juan Basin, particularly regulation connected to climate change.
“Trump will try to emphasize more cost efficiency, will minimize the impact (of regulations) on the economy, and will look at how much foreign oil we are importing and how it displaces U.S.-owned assets,” Fine said.
He said something to watch for is whether overproduction of oil as a result of decreased regulation could possibly lead to an oversupply, driving the sale price of oil further downward.
“That could lead to a second downturn in 2018,” Fine said. “I’ve cautioned that this could be a problem for the Trump administration.”
Mike Eisenfeld, energy and climate program manager for the environmental group San Juan Citizens Alliance, expressed hope that the Trump administration will move with caution when it comes to promoting increased oil and gas exploration.
“Certainly, the political climate has changed rapidly, and we hope people would want a thoughtful planning process in order to balance development with the effects it will have on other things that matter, like public health, and air and water quality,” said Eisenfeld. “We want thoughtful dialogue as opposed to ‘Drill baby, drill!’ It’s good to keep in mind the amenities we have here, and I don’t think we should deviate from why the Four Corners is such a special place.”
Efforts to diversify the local economy have included advertising the outdoor opportunities in the area, but it has not made up for lost energy production activity related to an extended bust cycle.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said he is hopeful that Trump will work for the best interests of all Americans, including tribal members.
“In President-elect Trump’s victory speech last night, he spoke of unity, stating that now is the time for all Americans to come together despite political party delineations," Begaye said in a written statement. "He told the nation that he will be a president for all Americans. For us Native American tribes, this is very important. We need to have faith that the Trump-Pence administration will continue to work with tribes on a nation-to-nation and government-to-government basis with the impetus of moving legislations forward that consider the best interests of tribal nations.”
The Nation owns a coal mine that is the sole supplier for the Four Corners Generating Station.
Reaction to Trump's victory among local Democratic Party officials was somber.
“We are extremely disappointed that Donald Trump prevailed in San Juan County. However, we are very proud of the fact that New Mexico remained blue,” said MP Schildmeyer, vice president of the Democratic Party of San Juan County.
The five local Democratic candidates also lost their races for the state House of Representatives and state Senate.
Henry Silentman, the president of the San Juan County Democratic Party, said there was a silver lining in Tuesday's results in New Mexico. Democrats Ben Ray Lujan won the 2nd Congressional District race, Maggie Toulouse Oliver was elected secretary of state, and the party maintained their majority in the state Senate while re-establishing a majority in the state House.
But he said the party will have to work harder in the future.
“Hopefully, like Hillary (Clinton) said, we come out stronger,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, expressed hope for the future in a written statement.
“The results of New Mexico’s election — and those in Colorado, Nevada and others — proved that people want to invest in our families and a hopeful, inclusive America,” he said.
San Juan County voters turned out at a slightly lower rate in Tuesday's election than than they did for the last presidential election in 2012, according to figures supplied by the County Clerk's Office.
Of the 71,930 voters registered in San Juan County, 46,310 ballots were cast, the figures show. Republicans cast 23,939 of those, and Democrats 14,437. In 2012, 46,374 votes were cast.
Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.