President Obama to visit New Mexico oil fields

The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — With gas prices steadily on the rise, President Barack Obama makes a stop Wednesday in New Mexico’s oil fields to tout the fact that domestic oil and gas production is at an all-time high.

But he’ll also step into solidly Republican territory dominated by an industry upset with his administration’s environmental policies and what it says is inadequate funding to push production to the levels needed to bring fuel costs down.

“If this administration is serious about increasing domestic oil and gas production,” said Steve Henke, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, “there are two steps they can take immediately: one is to decide not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard (as an endangered species) and the second is to provide the funding the Bureau of Land Management office in Carlsbad needs to process drilling permits.”

The listing of the lizard has been a hot-button issue for the industry, which is concerned it would mean curtailed development and job losses across the Permian Basin.

Henke said he was surprised to hear Obama would be visiting oil fields in New Mexico, “so I am cautiously optimistic that he is going to bring good news” on at least one of those fronts for the industry.

Although New Mexico is one of a handful of key states considered up for grabs in November’s elections, southeastern New Mexico is one of the most conservative regions of the state and is home to the state’s only Republican congressman, Rep. Steven Pearce.

Obama will travel to oil and gas production fields on federal lands outside of Maljamar, which is part of the Permian Basin, the nation’s second-largest oil-producing region after Alaska.

In a press release, the White House said the president’s stop will “highlight the Administration’s commitment to expanding domestic oil and gas production, which has increased each year he has been in office, with domestic oil production currently at an eight year high and domestic natural gas production at an all-time high.”

But Henke said production could be even higher. The BLM office in Carlsbad is unable to keep up with demand for the drilling permits needed to accelerate the development of federally owned oil and gas resources in the state, he said.

“We feel that if the administration wants to invest with a partner to create jobs and revenue, that they should invest in the BLM and the Carlsbad field office,” Henke said.

The Permian Basin makes up a large chunk of New Mexico’s oil and gas industry and accounts for more than two-thirds of Texas’ total oil production.

Nearly one-third of the basin’s 8.1 million acres is made up of New Mexico trust land. State officials said there are more than 6,000 oil and gas leases in the area and more than 70 active drilling rigs.