Land Commissioner-elect tours Carlsbad job sites,
New Mexico Land Commissioner-elect Stephanie Garcia Richard said her first visit to Carlsbad was educational, and showed her the needs of the community she said provides most of the funding to the State Trust through a recent boom in oil and gas activities.
Garcia Richard spent two days touring oil and gas sites with Carlsbad city officials and stakeholders, along with Carlsbad’s potash mines, intending to get a feel for an area she said is now the New Mexico State Land Office’s top priority.
“(Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway) said the State Land Office is really important to southeast New Mexico. It’s the other way around,” she said. “Southeast New Mexico is very important to the state land office. Ninety-some-plus percent (of) revenue into the Trust comes from here.”
Lessons learned on the job site will factor into how the State Land Office manages industrial growth on State Trust lands, Garcia Richard said, while protecting an essential asset: public land and the environment.
“I got to go out and see the impact on State Trust land specifically, just the frenzied feel that it has out there. With that in mind, how do we responsibly develop?” she said. “Obviously, this is for energy. We all know that we like our energy.
“From my perspective, I’m supposed to raise revenue for my beneficiaries. How do I do that, but not damage the asset in the long term?”
During the recent boom in the last year, Garcia Richard said she’s observed a lack of accountability when it comes to operators either ignoring requirement such as rights of way or trespassing on State Trust land.
“There has been a lot of damage. There’s a lot of trespass, a lot of people using rights of way that they don’t have an agreement with,” she said. “We’re trying to build in a little bit more responsibility for use on State Trust land by requiring that the field guys at the state land office, before I even ran for this office they were coming up with best practices for land use.
“It’s balancing that with the pace out there.”
That equilibrium between industrial development and environmental protections is essential, Garcia Richard said, to ensuring New Mexico can benefit economically from the recent boom, while preserving natural resources for the future.
“There’s an inherent balance in the office. The constitutional mandate is to raise revenue in the best interest of the beneficiaries, which is in the best interest of the Trust, which is in the best interest of the land. The land is the asset,” she said.
“I think we have some levers we can use. Because people are so hungry, there is a way to incentivize and there is a way to push people.”
She said she plans to use incentives to “push” companies to adopt practices such as recycling water from hydraulic fracturing or signing candidate conservation agreements with assurances (CCAAs) to ensure endangered species are protected.
“They’re saying we could a have 100 percent recycled operations in the next however many years. It’s like, what we can we do to push that faster. We’re in a desert,” she said. “What’s the proper balance not only between the revenue and protecting the land, but what’s the proper balance between incentivizing and just putting pressure?”
Maximize and diversify
Garcia Richard said she sees a lot of potential for operations on State Trust land to not only maximize revenue, but diversify to other revenue-building uses such as wind energy and ecotourism.
She said she plans to increase royalty rates operators pay, and potentially impose additional fees on methane emissions
“Maximize means you get every little last cent out of production off of State Trust land that you can," Garcia Richard said. "They are requesting permission to use our resources to develop their product. Are we being compensated? That’s where the increased royalty rates come in that I would like to pursue.
“That’s where the maximizing comes in.”
But to hold companies accountable, Garcia Richard said she intends to petition state lawmakers to increase staff at the Land Office’s Carlsbad office, which she said is struggling to keep up with the development.
“We’ve got resource here. The resource is not going anywhere,” she said. “I’m not saying that I’m proposing to change things every year or every quarter. I’m saying I don’t think the trustees, the beneficiaries are getting their fair share off of use of their asset.”
And during a boom cycle, when companies are already investing in the area, could prove an ideal time to pressure them to spend more on new and innovative practices, she said.
Renewable energy such wind and solar power is a key component, Garcia Richard said, of her agenda as State Land Commissioner.
She said her office will be looking at parcels of State Trust land in Curry County that could be idyllic for wind fields.
“I want to aggressively pursue development of renewable energy on state trust land,” Garcia Richard said. “There are some parcels and sections of state trust land that are ideal for wind development on eastern side of the state. Ecotourism is another way to diversify. You can look for some announcements from my office once I take office, around those initiatives and priorities.”
Supporting the boom town
While she does not have the authority to direct state dollars to many of the projects Carlsbad residents desire, such as road and infrastructure improvements, Garcia Richard vowed to advocate for the needs of southeast New Mexico and partner with local communities that host oil and gas.
While operations continue to grow, Garcia Richard said the safety and quality of life in Carlsbad and other oil towns must be preserved.
“I’m very interested in supporting this community in whatever it is they’d like to do. Over the past few days I’ve talked to people about their priority for roads and infrastructure, access to medical care, improved education systems. I absolutely want to partner with this community,” she said.
“One of the things I’ve really learned about these folks is the tenacity, but also the single-minded focus on a goal. (The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) is a perfect example, just how this community comes together and supports unlikely partnerships.
“With Carlsbad ballooning out, we need a little more attention paid to the health and safety of the people down here.”
Partnerships between the private industry and government agencies could be used on individual, specific projects such as road improvements, Garcia Richard said, but such efforts can present a conflict of interest if made too broadly.
“There are ways that it undercuts public employees and just fairness in general because a private company can just come in and really pay what they want and have whatever,” she said.
“I do see people’s objection to it, but limited to very targeted circumstance, I think it can be a good thing for a short-term project. They’re limited. It’s not broad. It’s individual projects. I think there is an opportunity there. There’s a dire need here for infrastructure.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.