Drilling pause brings hope in NM

By Miya King-Flaherty, Our Wild New Mexico organizer

Advocates are awaiting a federal report on oil and gas leasing this summer that could set New Mexico on a path for a safer climate, more stable economy and healthier communities.

Almost immediately after assuming office in January, the Biden administration issued an order to temporarily suspend new oil and gas leasing and drilling on public lands. The pause does not affect existing leases or drilling permits, and revenue from royalties will keep flowing into the state. 

In New Mexico, oil and gas companies can continue their current development, and in addition to current leases and permits, operators have stockpiled more than 6,000 unused drilling permits — a sign that fundamental reforms are needed in the federal oil and gas leasing program. 

Our public and ancestral tribal lands are under assault from oil and gas drilling, and we must urgently transition away from fossil-fuel extraction and burning, which threatens New Mexicans’ health and degrades lands and waters for communities and wildlife and threatens future generations. 

Pausing new leasing and permitting will not jeopardize jobs or revenue, but it will give the Biden administration the time and resources to plan critical transitioning with communities, stakeholders, and advocates to comprehensively review the federal oil and gas leasing program, which is overseen by the Department of the Interior.

Shortly after U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland was confirmed as Interior Department secretary, the department held a virtual forum on March 25 with several panels to highlight perspectives from Indigenous organizations, labor and environmental justice organizations, community advocates and industry representatives to discuss what should comprehensively be reviewed in the current oil and gas leasing system.

The panelists highlighted various issues: the need for more tribal consultation, including local level consultation with impacted communities; understanding the value of sacred lands; impacts to rural and poor communities; poor air quality and frack-wastewater concerns; reforming antiquated leasing policies; and impacts to the economy and jobs to name a few.

The Department of Interior accepted comments through April 15 and plans to develop an interim report this summer, probably in late June. The report will include initial findings on the federal oil and gas leasing program and outline next steps and recommendations for the Department and Congress to take.

This bold action is what we need from our leaders in Washington DC and here in New Mexico. Our state has been held hostage to the oil and gas industry long enough. It’s time to make a just transition away from fossil fuels and toward a sustainable economy that puts New Mexicans first. We will be sharing ways to speak up to support the administration in planning the strong reforms that are needed for our families’ future. 

Drilling pause brings hope in NM