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Jay Paul McWilliams told Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt about challenges his company faced trying to get one well pad permitted. Hannah Grover, hgrover@daily-times.com

David Bernhardt takes pro-industry stance during County Commission meeting

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AZTEC — The San Juan County Commission took advantage of a visit from the deputy secretary of the interior to highlight some of their concerns about the local area.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt attended the San Juan County Commission meeting on Tuesday.

"I'm hoping that he understood the issues that we have in San Juan County," County Commission Chairwoman Margaret McDaniel said following the meeting.

Bernhardt said he grew up in a town that experienced a huge oil shale boom followed by an oil shale bust.

“The one thing it taught me more than anything is that the decisions that we make back there (in Washington, D.C.) have a real consequence to the folks that live here,” Bernhardt said.

1. Length of time needed for permitting holds up drilling new well pads

County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the San Juan Basin has not seen a large increase in the oil and gas industries like other parts of the state.

“Our gross receipts tax revenue is floundering here,” Carpenter said.

Jay Paul McWilliams, CEO of LOGOS Resources, highlighted challenges his company faces.

"We picked up some acreage in the oil-window of the basin in 2017," McWilliams said.

He said since then, the company has been working to develop those leases.

MORE: Energy Summit: Industry to partner with local to sustain oil and gas growth

"We have spent the better part of this year working to get one pad permitted, and there's three wells on that pad," he said.

He attributed the slow process to turnover at the Bureau of Land Management's Farmington Field Office and new employees who do not have the institutional memory to make the process more efficient.

Bernhardt said when he entered his job at the U.S. Department of the Interior, it took 270 days to process a permit.

“We’re now averaging about 22 days in getting those things through,” he said.

2. San Juan Generating Station's closure could devastate the local area

Carpenter told Bernhardt the potential 2022 closure of the San Juan Generating Station will devastate the county. He asked Bernhardt if the department could consider options to make coal more financially viable and enhance the potential of plants remaining open.

Carpenter stressed that the San Juan Generating Station is currently in compliance with environmental regulations. Carpenter called it "one of the cleanest plants in the country."

He said the county realizes it is inevitable that the power plant eventually will close.

"One of the messages that I would also like to let you know is that San Juan County is not sitting idle just to let this happen," Carpenter said.

MORE: How San Juan Generating Station went from powerhouse to possible closure

He said the county is working on economic diversification and looking for ways to extend the operation of the San Juan Generating Station past 2022.

“The president’s made it pretty clear that the war on coal is over,” Bernhardt said.

3. PILT funding crucial part of county budget

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Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, and Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, discuss the budget surplus caused by increase oil and gas production. Hannah Grover, hgrover@daily-times.com

Only 6 percent of land in San Juan County is privately held, which makes the payments in lieu of taxes for federal lands a crucial part of the county’s budget, Commissioner Jim Crowley said.

He said about every other year the county is warned that it needs to lobby for continued PILT funding.

"Your western legislators, I mean this irrespective of party, are pretty good advocates for you all," Bernhardt said. "I mean they fight for you."

But he said members of Congress are only a fraction of the membership of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

MORE: San Juan County receives nearly $2.3 million in PILT distributions

"But the truth of the matter is those dollars are competing with every other dollar on the discretionary side," he said.

Bernhardt said PILT funding is not going to go away, but he urged county officials to continue lobbying efforts for the funds.

"You're never going to get zero, but I would say that, you know, the voice of the people that depend on those dollars is an important voice," Bernhardt said.

4. Restrictions make it hard to develop tribal lands

Commissioner Wallace Charley, who represents the western portion of the county,  asked Bernhardt what the Department of the Interior is going to do to help Native Americans.

"What about us?" Charley asked. "We're the original Americans."

He said the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which operates within the Department of the Interior, has placed a lot of restrictions on development on tribal lands.

"Since you have indicated that President Trump is really good at making changes, why not make changes with BIA?" Charley asked. "Get rid of BIA or something."

Bernhardt assured Charley that the Department of the Interior is looking at changes for that agency.

"We're looking very, very hard at some of the road blocks that are put in your community's way," he said. "We're taking a look at them like you've never seen before, so don't for a minute think that change isn't going to happen."

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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