- Associated Press - Thursday, July 6, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Officials with New Mexico’s oil and gas industry are praising a move by the U.S. Interior Department to streamline permitting for drilling on federal land, an effort they say could boost funding for public education and other government services as the state looks to shore up its finances.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order Thursday calling for faster and more efficient permitting to clear a backlog in Bureau of Land Management offices across the West. That includes New Mexico, where offices overseeing energy development in two of the nation’s key basins have hundreds of pending permit applications.

In southeastern New Mexico, where activity has been on the rise, federal officials say there were nearly 390 pending applications at the start of the year. Another 152 applications were pending in northwestern New Mexico.

Ryan Flynn, head of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, testified before Congress last week on the delays and other challenges faced by the industry. On Thursday, he described Zinke’s order as great news for the state.

“Today’s announcement will help us to more fully realize our energy potential,” Flynn said in a statement.

Environmentalists voiced concerns about the Interior Department’s order, saying developers already hold leases that allow for drilling on large swaths of federal land.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, which represents more than 1,000 members, contends that administrative problems within the Bureau of Land Management cost the state and federal government millions of dollars a day in lost royalties and taxes that could be used for education and other public services.

Flynn said that money would be critical as New Mexico looks to recover from a budget crisis.

The state’s finances were hit hard over the past two years by a downturn in revenue from oil and natural gas sectors. New Mexico also has struggled with a weak overall economy.

To close the deficit for the budget year that ended in June, state spending on school programs was trimmed while school districts’ cash balances and funding for transportation and instructional materials were reduced.

State officials expect to end this budget year with about $30 million in reserves. Still, they expect to spend more than they collect in revenues.

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