ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As a public comment period on the federal mineral leasing program draws to a close today, environmental and Indigenous groups in New Mexico’s oil and gas-producing communities are seeking a complete overhaul of the system.
Julia Bernal, a Sandia Pueblo member and Pueblo Action Alliance director, said during a panel discussion Wednesday that previous administrations had “gone off the rails” in leasing on culturally significant areas near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
“Meaningful tribal consultation hasn’t been fulfilled, nor has it been respected,” Bernal said. “Resource management plans should have tribal governments at the initial planning processes, as the Indigenous nations in New Mexico have a large stake in how our water and land is managed.”
President Biden ordered a pause on new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands in January.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the pause allows for a careful review of a program which operated under an “act now, think later” approach for the last four years.
“In order to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our nation’s economy, we must manage our lands and waters and resources not just across fiscal years but across generations,” Haaland said during a March forum.
The majority of New Mexico’s oil production occurs on public land. The industry contributes about 40% of the state’s general fund revenue.
New Mexico wells produced a record 366.6 million barrels of oil in 2020, despite the pandemic.
The Rev. Gene Harbaugh, a retired Presbyterian minister and member of Carlsbad-based Citizens Caring for the Future, said the government should consider long-term local impacts of the boom-and-bust cycle.
“Short-term economic gains from the extraction industry have resulted in housing and educational and infrastructure problems that will have to be faced long after the man camps and the traffic has gone silent,” Harbaugh said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration has finalized or is developing new industry regulations to address climate change.
New rules include water use reporting requirements and a ban on routine venting and flaring of natural gas.
Interior will release a report this summer with recommendations for natural resource management on federal land.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.