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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Speakers advocate for oil and gas industry at Permian Basin Celebration kick-off dinner

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Author Alex Epstein addresses the crowd as keynote speaker at the Permian Basin Celebration kick-off dinner Friday at the Artesia Country Club. (Adrien Hedden – El Rito Media)

By ADRIAN HEDDEN
El Rito Media

Martin Yates’ company first struck oil 100 years ago 15miles southeast the small-town of Artesia in southeast New Mexico, paving the way for what became known as the “shale revolution” decades later as fossil fuel production boomed in the Permian Basin.

The industry’s growth created thousands of jobs, drove state revenue by about $15 billion in the last fiscal year, and today is the region’s defining industry.

Author Alex Epstein said the growth in American oil and gas could continue, centered in southeast New Mexico, well beyond the next decade despite predictions that peak oil demand could hit by 2033. He said the main impediment to the ongoing oil boom were policies at the state and federal level aiming to mitigate environmental impacts but also impacting economic growth.

Epstein’s comments came during a ceremony June 14 at the Artesia Country Club marking the 100th anniversary of the Illinois #3 well, the first that produced oil in southeast New Mexico in 1924, along with the first state oil royalty check of $135 – the equivalent in 2024 of $2,394.

An author of several books on energy and energy policy, most recently “Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal and Nwhatural Gas – Not Less,” Epstein argued government policies and decision-making in the energy sector should be driven by how it impacts the success of the human race. He defined the concept of “human flourishing” as allowing people to live long, healthy lives and have the “ability to seek fulfillment.”

“The ideas is that when you’re talking about energy and its various environmental effects, looking at it as the perspective of how does it affect flourishing, which is different from the current state of saying how does this impact the environment,” Epstein said during an interview with the Carlsbad Current-Argus. “So, I think it’s good to impact our environment in many cases. It’s good if it enhances human flourishing.”

Communities throughout southeast New Mexico experienced the kind of flourishing Epstein described in the decades since that first well, said New Mexico Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-55) of Carlsbad. Brown said after oil was struck in Artesia, the entire region became the focal point of American energy development.

She said the industry was a top employer in her district, which spans parts of Eddy and Lea counties, New Mexico’s two Permian Basin counties within the western Delaware sub-basin of the Permian. She also argued oil and gas accounted for about half of New Mexico’s budget.

“Once you hit oil here, people got interested in the whole area,” Brown said at the event in Artesia. “We have some of the best rock in the world. It’s truly one of the top employers. That’s true for Artesia, Carlsbad, even Loving.”

Of the centennial, Brown said it was an occasion to be honored as the start of an industry that came to define the state’s economy.

“It’s a milestone worth celebrating,” Brown said. “It changed the state for the better. These are people who do big things and accomplish big things.”

But concerns for pollution and reportedly worsening air quality and water scarcity grew in New Mexico amid the boom in oil and gas production. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her administration, since taking office in 2019 pushed and enacted several policies intended to tighten requirements on oil and gas producers to reduce their environmental impacts.

The New Mexico Environment Department in 2022 put in place new rules to increase the frequency of state-required leak detection and repairs at well sites and other oil and gas facilities, targeting volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions released by fossil fuel facilities and believed to form ground-level ozone of smog.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it was considering designating the entire Permian Basin, in both New Mexico and Texas, in violation of state air quality requirements, a move that could restrict future federal oil and gas permitting.

Environmentalists also tied oil and gas pollution to increasingly aridity and drought in the state, causing worsening wildfires including the Calf Canyon Hermits Peak and Black fires that each burned more than 300,000 acres in northern and southwest New Mexico, respectively.

Despite these concerns Epstein said stricter environmental rules on oil and gas, both at the state and federal level were “sad” as they threatened to stymie the industry New Mexico relies on.

“I consider it very sad,” Epstein said. “I think it’s very unjust and hurtful that an industry that bring so much to the state is demonized by the very people who depend on it.”

Hanson Yates, grandson of Martin Yates and president of Santo Petroleum said the region was in its “Golden Age” of oil and gas production.

Yates said 8.8 billion barrels of oil were produced in southeast New Mexico since his grandfather first found the resource beneath Artesia.

He said more than 3 billion of those barrels, about a third, were generated in the last nine years, meaning the region was on track to see continual growth.

“Think about that. It’s impressive,” Yates said before the crowd. “The overwhelming impact of the oil and gas industry in New Mexico cannot be overstated. The state simply cannot function without a healthy oil and gas business.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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