New Mexico commends Biden's climate change actions. Texas ready to 'defend' oil and gas

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Reaction from state regulators in New Mexico and Texas – the two states that share the oil-rich Permian Basin – differed significantly in the wake of recent actions from the administration of President Joe Biden intended to mitigate climate change by curbing oil and gas activities.

The day after Biden’s inauguration, Acting Secretary of the Interior Scott de la Vega suspended the authority of agencies within the Department of the Interior such as the Bureau of Land Management to issue permits related to oil and gas extraction and other approvals for 60 days.

And about a week later, Biden through executive order called for an indefinite halt on new federal land leases to oil and gas operators.

Past coverage:Yvette Herrell seeks to spare New Mexico from Biden's ban on oil and gas leases

Environmentalist groups championed the orders as action need to combat pollution, while the oil and gas industry and its supporters derided the moves as devastating to the economy and U.S. energy production.

At the state level, New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) applauded the President for working to mitigate climate change while the Texas General Land Office sought to fight in defense of continued extraction.

While more than half of New Mexico’s onshore oil and gas production occurs on federal land and would be impacted by the orders, about 90 percent of Texas’ is on private land and would be unaffected.

What's the future of oil and gas?:5 takeaways from our conversation with NM, TX stakeholders

In a Feb. 9 letter to the Biden administration, EMNRD Cabinet Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst wrote that Biden’s efforts were in line with New Mexico’s efforts to reduce emissions and the environmental impact of oil and gas operations.

She pointed to EMRND’s recent efforts to develop tougher regulations on methane emissions from extraction facilities and on the management of wastewater created during the hydraulic fracturing process.

Related:New Mexico lawmakers warned of impacts from Biden's oil and gas leasing ban

Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, will be one of the panelists for the second presentation in the New Mexico State University Climate Change Education Seminar Series.

“The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) commends President Joe Biden’s swift actions to address climate change pollution,” read the letter.

“New Mexico, under the leadership of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, has made climate change mitigation a priority—including development of nation-leading methane waste rules—to protect the future of our state, our country, and our planet.”

Propst did call on the federal administration to provide more guidance on how oil and gas could operate in New Mexico under the orders.

She said the state and BLM frequently collaborate on regulatory actions and that the recent orders from the Biden administration created some uncertainty that “undermined” EMNRD’s ability to “safeguard New Mexico’s economy and environment.”

Oil and gas operators were already leaving New Mexico for private land in Texas, Propst wrote, due to the uncertainty.

More:New Mexico industry warns of dire impact as President Biden pauses oil and gas leasing

She said guidance for BLM field offices was needed to allow for approvals at existing facilities such as tie-ins to pipelines and the ability to operate wells already drilled under the 60-day suspension and that while the suspension allowed for some approvals necessary for safety it was unclear which specific actions fell into that category.

“However, there is confusion in the field regarding which approvals fall within these categories because additional approvals are often required even when operators have a valid lease and permit to drill,” Propst wrote. “Operators have reported many examples of approvals not moving forward that appear to fall under these exceptions.”

She pointed to rights of way needed to ensure new wells have takeaway capacity for natural gas and are not forced to release the gas through venting or burn it off by flaring – both of which could contribute to air pollution.

More:What now? New Mexico oil and gas looks to future under Biden's halt on land leasing

Rights of way were also needed to use pipelines that transported treated produced water used for fracking to wells which reduces operators’ use of freshwater, Propst wrote.

“We encourage the DOI to provide written guidance to provide BLM field offices and oil and gas operators with the clarity they need to move forward,” the letter read. "EMNRD looks forward to continuing our long history of working with the DOI and the BLM to judiciously supervise the conservation of New Mexico’s oil and gas resources on federal lands.”

Lujan Grisham signaled she planned to work with the federal government on a balanced energy policy but did not clarify if she supported the 60 suspension or leasing halt and argued climate change must be at the forefront of federal policy.

More:President Joe Biden halts oil and gas leases, permits on federal land and water

Across the border, leaders in Texas took a much more aggressive stance on Biden’s actions, calling them a “government overreach” and vowing to oppose the orders.

Gov. Greg Abbott derided the Biden administration and issued his own executive order on Jan. 28 calling on state agencies to use their legal powers to contest any federal actions that “threatens” the Texas energy industry.

George P. Bush

On Feb. 8, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush created the Texas Defense Task Force within the General Land Office tasked with identifying excessive federal actions and challenging them in court.  

"Texans have a deep-rooted history of defending our livelihoods, and we have every intention to carry on this proud tradition. The unprecedented pace at which the Biden Administration is attempting to wipe out jobs through executive orders will be met with the full force of the law," Bush said.

"The Texas Defense Task Force is prepared to aggressively pursue every legal avenue to slow down and stop this alarming onslaught of executive orders and defend the hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs and our economy at large."

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.