Industry calls on New Mexico Land Commissioner-elect Garcia Richard to support growth
A new commissioner of public lands could mean big changes for New Mexico’s oil and gas industry.
Stephanie Garcia Richard was elected to the post Tuesday in the 2018 general election, succeeding Republican Aubrey Dunn.
Garcia Richards represented District 45 in the New Mexico House of Representatives.
Voters chose the former educator to run the State Land Office, which is responsible for administering about 9 million acres of surface, and 13 million acres of subsurface estates in New Mexico.
Most of the revenue generated by the office goes to funding New Mexico schools.
The morning after her victory, Garcia Richard vowed to shift the office’s focus to protecting the environment, even amid a recent boom in the oil and gas industry.
“The changes we must make, both legislatively and in the State Land Office will be met with constant resistance,” Garcia Richard said in a statement. “And I will need you to guarantee we protect our land and water, while making the most money for our schools and hospitals.”
She said she hoped to increase regulations on oil and gas operations to reduce methane emissions, while raising royalty rates and increasing industry transparency.
“This work starts today,” Garcia Richard said. “Thank you for your vote. Thank you for helping us make history.”
Dunn questioned Garcia Richard’s ability to balance the economic development, with environmental concerns and access to public lands.
He said Garcia Richard lacks the experience for making the needed compromises.
“I am concerned about her ability to run that office,” Dunn said. “It’s her background. She’s never run a business, she’s never employed people. She’s never made a deal.”
While he admitted Garcia Richard would likely continue to push for protecting the environment, Dunn said she will also have to ensure the State Land Office continues to bring revenue into New Mexico.
More troubling, Dunn said, was Garcia Richard’s stance on hydraulic fracturing and past statements she made about restricting the practice.
“I think she’ll stand firm on the water issues,” Dunn said. “To stop fracking is not a good idea. That won’t help at all. I think there’s a lot of things she thinks she can do. She’s going to find out real fast.”
That compromise between industrial growth and responsible land management is crucial to the role, he said.
“It’s really a balancing act,” Dunn said. “You want to protect the beneficiaries, but still maintain the future of the land.
He said the counties in southeast New Mexico that host most of the state’s oil and gas developments must be prioritized for future funding for infrastructure such as roads.
“I appreciate Lea and Eddy counties, and what they do for the state,” Dun said. “We need to make sure that income gets back to the citizens to protect their quality of life.”
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Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said the industry intends to work with Garcia Richard in maintaining the growth.
A friendly regulatory environment was a key component to the recent boom, he said, generating more than $1 billion in surplus funds in the last year to the state.
Garcia Richard ran on a platform supportive of public schools, but McEntyre said the source of revenue needed – extraction – must also be prioritized.
“If the priority is to support our schools, then it should support the development we’ve been having,” he said. “Anyone who talks about increasing revenue to the Land Office will need the industry to grow. A lot of her campaign did focus on providing for the education system. The Land Office is a significant revenue generator.”
Lease sales, rights of way and applications to permit drilling must continue be prioritized at the Land Office, he said, to ensure the future of New Mexico’s economy.
“The oil and gas is really what’s moving New Mexico ahead,” McEntyre said. “We’ll be beginning a partnership with (Garcia Richard). It will be unique for the industry, and New Mexico.”
The National Education Association (NEA) embraced Garcia Richard's election, along with that of Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham as a sign of renewed value placed education at the state level.
“The victories of Michelle Lujan Grisham and Stephanie Garcia Richard demonstrate the power educators have when they come together to stand up for their students,” said NEA New Mexico President Betty Patterson.
“Educators and supporters of public education left nothing on the table this election, knocking doors, making phone calls, and organizing Get out the Vote rallies to support pro-education candidates. Tonight, we saw those efforts pay off.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.