By Mike Neas – The New Mexico State Land Commissioner is attempting to transfer 6.6 million acres of federal split estate mineral rights to the New Mexico State Land Office. In this case a split estate is where the federal government owns the subsurface mineral rights and the land owner owns only the surface rights. This should be a wake-up call to all of us!
The State Land Office intends to lease out those split estate mineral rights. Undoubtedly much of it would be leased for oil and gas development. This is not only about fracking on a grand scale and turning the Land of Enchantment into a bona fide Gasland, it’s about land and mineral grabs for our federal lands. I am referring to any attempts to transfer ownership of our federal land and, or mineral rights from the federal government.
This mineral transfer attempt could soon become the business model and lead to others in our state and elsewhere around the west. We know changes are coming that will impact land uses. These changes will impact federal and private land and they are about profits over people. This federal mineral right transfer might be billed as good for economic development, and a cure-all for our educational budget shortfall, but serves only to keep our state hostage to the oil and gas industry, keeping the Land of Enchantment and its citizens in a vulnerable, submissive position.
Very few counties in New Mexico have protective oil and gas ordinances in place. Few Commissioners can agree on the need. In most cases the subsurface rights are the dominant right and most of us don’t own any mineral rights at all. Given that New Mexico is rich in recoverable oil and poor economically, a fracking boom could someday sweep across our state, and we aren’t prepared. This could happen whether Mr. Dunn acquires the 6.6 million acres of split estate mineral rights or not. Many cities in oil rich states must deal with the oil business within city limits, next to homes, churches and schools. Given the incoming administration’s attitude toward regulations on the oil and gas industry and business in general and without strong county oil and gas ordinances, it could be the same in New Mexico.
Oil and gas fracking processes despoil billions of gallons of water in New Mexico, every year. Fracking is dependent on water. Education in New Mexico is critically dependent on oil and gas revenues which are often achieved by fracking. The future of our water here in New Mexico may soon be closely tied to education which is dependent on oil and gas revenues. Environmental concerns and policies may soon be weakened beyond any benefit, or they may soon go away altogether. Dr. Daniel Fine, associate director at New Mexico Tech’s Center for New Mexico Energy Policy and an energy policy analyst for the state of New Mexico says that all of the regulations the industry has confronted as small producers, were created under the umbrella of climate change. “That umbrella has been pulled out, all of that will go away…What we have now is a reversal, and a rollback on all industry regulation.” Fine predicts coal will enjoy a comeback and oil and gas policy will become part of national security. As disconcerting as Dr. Fine’s words are, they may soon be true.
New Mexicans should fight to keep our federal lands federal. This includes federal mineral rights. We must assure that the areas we have already protected within our state stay protected as we intended. We must be involved and participate in the processes which affect us all and the land we live in. (sources below)
Dr. Fine — http://www.daily-times.com/story/news/local/four-corners/2016/12/09/energy-expert-talks-future-us-energy/95213784/
State Land Office News Release –http://www.nmstatelands.org/uploads/PressRelease/7c63bfca932547d89f9afbbc8739d0aa/New_Mexico_Tech_to_Assess_the_Value_Federal_Minerals_That_Could_Support_Early_Childhood_Education_1.pdf