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Activists demand Biden address the 'legacy of extractive colonialism in New Mexico'

Oil and gas producers group responds: The industry is 'the foundation for our state's economic recovery' and its economy

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Activists hope the incoming presidential administration will follow through on campaign promises to end new oil and gas leases on federal lands.

AZTEC — Rallying behind #BuildBackFossilFree, New Mexico environmental activists gathered at the Bureau of Land Management state offices in Santa Fe this week to mark what they say will be the last federal oil and gas lease sale in New Mexico.

These groups — including the Greater Chaco Coalition, WildEarth Guardians and Pueblo Action Alliance — unfurled a timeline that shows what they are calling the "extractive colonialism and indigenous resistance in New Mexico." This timeline starts with the Spanish colonialism in the 16th century and ends with fossil fuel extraction starting in 1911 and stretching until the present time.

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In a press release, Pueblo Action Alliance Director Julia Bernal said the groups were demanding that  incoming President Joe Biden's administration address "the legacy of extractive colonialism in New Mexico, the stolen ancestral lands of the Pueblo, Diné and Apache people."

Jason Libersky Quantigy's Chief executive Officer walks toward an oil and gas site, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, near Lynbrook.

“When we say ‘ban federal fossil fuel leasing’, we actually mean building back from the harm and violence inflicted on the land and on the people," she continued. "We must give the land and water a chance to regenerate from oil and gas, coal and uranium waste. We demand a just transition to a cleaner energy economy that puts the land and the people over capitalism. We demand that Indigenous sovereignty and self determination be respected in land and water management plans. We must also respect the Indigenous resistance against colonialism and those who continue to fight to protect our ancestral landscapes. Protecting areas like the Greater Chaco region helps to ensure that our culture continues for the next generations."

While campaigning, Biden said he would end new oil and gas leases on federal lands. With the lease sale that concluded on Jan. 14, the activists who gathered in Santa Fe that day saw hope that New Mexico could be moving away from fossil fuels.

An oil drill is seen in operation in this undated file photo near Nageezi.

This comes on the back of the America-first energy policy of the President Donald Trump administration, which oversaw the draft Farmington Field Office Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan amendment. The resource management plan amendment called for new oil and gas leases within the currently recognized 10-mile buffer zone surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park. A record of decision is expected in June 2021.

WildEarth Guardians Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner Rebecca Sobel said an end to new leases on federal lands could help New Mexico take the steps necessary to diversify the economy and the state's revenue sources.

A pumpjack is seen off of NM Highway 173 in Aztec in this undated file photo.

NMOGA says extraction industry must succeed for state to prosper

When reached by phone, New Mexico Oil & Gas Association Spokesman Robert McEntyre highlighted the important role he said oil and gas production plays in the state.

"Oil and gas is the foundation of our economy and it will be the foundation for our state's economic recovery," McEntyre said. "So I find it ironic that people would in any way cheer an effort to try to undermine or to try to weaken what has been a source of so much opportunity and a source of so much resources for the state."

He said anyone invested in the future of New Mexico should want the oil and gas industry to succeed "because our public schools and our state budget depends on it."

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But Sobel argues that the state has been "held hostage" by the industry because of its economic prowess and that it would take steps to diversify the revenue sources if the federal government stopped providing new leases.

"New Mexico knows that it needs to take the necessary step of revenue diversification and moving beyond fossil fuels as a bedrock for the New Mexico economy," Sobel said.

An end to new leases on federal lands does not mean a shutdown of the oil and gas industry. Sobel said 60% of the current leases are undeveloped and ending new leases will have minimal impact in terms of energy production.

A ConocoPhillips oil and gas well in Aztec is pictured on June 30, 2016.

"Already we have a glut of public land acreage that has been sold to the oil and gas industry and has yet to be developed," she said.

Market prices dipped due to imbalance of supply and demand, in part driven by the pandemic, producers have become more focused on developing their existing leases, McEntyre said. 

The central delivery point for oil is seen in this undated file photo off of U.S. Highway 550 in Lybrook.

"Certainly today is very different than six months ago and that's very different than a year ago," he said. "A year ago, we were sitting at the top of a very robust economy and just six months ago we were in a position where most people were uncertain when the recovery would begin, what it would look like, when things may return to normal."

While the priority for most producers at this point is developing the assets they have, McEntyre said there are some parties interested in acquiring new leases.

As Biden prepares to take office, McEntyre said the oil and gas industry is ready to engage in proactive conversations about energy, climate change and reducing emissions.

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"We're confident that oil and gas will continue to play a role in meeting the energy needs of our state and our country well into the future," he said. "We certainly are committed to driving environmental progress. We've been a key driver of environmental progress."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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