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Don’t endanger the economic life of our state

Dennis Kintigh

Sadly most New Mexicans do not know how critical the oil and gas industry is to the economic health of our state. Currently 16 percent of the state’s revenue comes directly from the oil and gas business. Another 11 percent comes from interest on the permanent fund, which is filled with moneys from oil and gas sales.

These figures do not include corporate income tax from oil companies, sales tax on equipment purchases for the oil fields, or income tax on the 23,000 individuals directly employed in the oil and gas industry. Whether we like it or not, this state’s economic health is dependent upon oil and gas operations more than any other activity.

Today this critical revenue source is in jeopardy because there is a concerted effort to have the sand dune lizard (Sceloporus arnicolus) listed as an endangered species. This lizard has a very limited habitat. Unfortunately for New Mexico, the habitat is smack-dab in the middle of the oil operations of Southeastern New Mexico.

While I do not believe an endangered species listing for the sand dune lizard will immediately doom oil and gas operations, there will be an impact, and in these troubled economic times when there is little margin for error, the effect will ripple through all state services. With such serious consequences, it is critical that this issue be examined carefully and seriously.

Petition for endangered species listing


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In 2002 the Center for Biological Diversity, a powerful nonprofit advocacy group, filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service demanding that the sand dune lizard be listed as an endangered species. The scientific basis for the petition was a series of studies conducted by the University of New Mexico biology department in the mid 1990s.

The final report, dated 1998, asserts that the lizard is threatened by cattle ranching activity and oil and gas development. The threat from cattle ranching was due to the destruction of the lizard’s crucial habitat, the shinnery oak. Ranchers had been spraying to eliminate the shinnery oak because, during certain times of the year, this plant is toxic to cattle.

This practice, which began in the 1970s, has been stopped on federal lands for well over a decade.

Oil and gas operations continue, and the claim is made that these activities pose the gravest threat to the lizard. This claim is boldly set forth in the petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, and apparently supported by the UNM research. The petition includes comments like “Past and ongoing oil and gas development has already resulted in substantial losses of habitat for and reductions in abundance of the sand dune lizard,” and “The sand dune lizard is at immediate risk of extinction.”

A glaring contradiction

However, the research concedes that oil and gas operations have occurred in this area for five decades, yet the lizard continues to thrive. Interestingly the UNM report notes there is a significant difference in lizard population between areas where oil wells exist and where they are absent. When I dug deeply into the 1998 UNM report, I confirmed that is correct.

Curiously, the data reveals the population levels for areas with wells in 1997 were higher than the population levels in 1996 for areas where wells were absent. The population increased 2.4 times for the area with wells between 1996 and 1997, yet only increased by only 1.6 times in those areas where wells were absent. I could find no explanation for this glaring contradiction of the advocate’s petition.

This fact alone, independent of the half century of co-existence by the lizard and oil operations, is reason enough to stop the listing of the sand dune lizard until further independent, professional, thorough and peer-reviewed research is conducted. We need much more data before any decision should be reached.

The stakes are too high to endanger the economic life of our state. We simply cannot afford to jump to conclusions in this matter. Not at this time.

Kintigh is a Republican House member from Roswell.

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9 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. MJM, invoking Australia, Brazil, and Canada–none of them third-world economies!–without introducing their environmental restrictions, etc., makes your comparison with New Mexico meaningless. Your mentioning cost-benefits analysis, but without bothering to offer a single fact about it, hardly sets you up as an expert or me as a neophyte. So, before you get snarky with people with whom you disagree, take the advice you so freely dispense, book up on both sides of the issue, and then get past regurgitating what pleases you.

  2. Michael Hayes,

    Interesting comments regarding the extractive industry industry and how NM is going to be a third world economy if we continue to pursue the direction of developing those resources. I guess you would consider much of western Candda, portions of Brazil, and much of Austrailia as thrid world economies since they are area where extractive industires are growing? Wow near full employment in these area too. Environmentally they do the right thing most of the time. NM has so much potential for natural resource development. But, not until you become better informed on costs/benefits of such development Mr. Hays. I hpe you make the effort. I have had to look at both sides of the process. It is a real eye opener. Why don’t you go look at a mine site under remediation? You might just learn a few things.

  3. A third-world economy like New Mexico’s will remain a third-world economy so long as it relies on and encourages extractive industries. If protecting a lizard and its environment is what is required to help wean the state from this dependency, good. I would like Representative Kintigh to conduct a thought experiment; imagine being an elected official when the oil runs out, then tell me what your legislative response would be. When you have figured it out, advocate it now or explain why not.

  4. Representative Kintigh is more or less correct with his statements.

    The state permanent fund which is quite substantial is the result of taxes charged on the extraction of natural resources severed from state lands. An historical review will show that this revenue has declined over time (exept for years of high commodidy prices).

    It is likely to drop further in the forseeable future for a number of reasons. First, NM is a hard place to do business if you are involved in the extractive industries unless you are a large company. . I am not complaining, just talking the facts.

    The second is that there are many more places that you can develop natural resources than NM. For example ND, TX, MT, UT WY are examples in the west and there are others in the eastern USA. Candad is a good location.

    Capital will flow to where one can get a return, and the biggest risk is time. It takes so long to get things done in NM. With 70+% of land owned by federal, state, local or tribal governments it is hard to get things done. NM does not promote business for small or mid size natural resource developoment companies.

    That is too bad because the larger companies will be gone once a more attractive alternative is found.

    Politicians will make every effort they can to access the permanent funds for our operational expenses of the bloated educational system. When this money is gone you will see property taxes rise to levels like those in many states. At that time we will have no competitive advantage left. NM will be like Detroit, unless we get our act together now.

    I am not hopeful that as a state we will address the need for structural reform of a bloated government system. There are just too many individuals who are on the government gravy train.

    I look for a tax payer revolt shortly, perhaps manifesting itself at the polls in 2012. Bu it is wishful thinking..

  5. You and Steve Pearce need to get the facts on this situation and stop exploiting the fears of the “common man”. You seem to imply that New Mexicans are stupid in that they do not know the revenues we get from oil and gas industries. Quit the scare tactics and tell the truth.

  6. The lizard is just an excuse to achieve a far more important objective. I wish the environmentalists would quit using the welfare of a single being to hold the line for the greater good. The crazy short-sighted, right-wing, Jebus is coming anyway crowd only demonizes the single being in their relentless propaganda. They will render the survival of that single being meaningless against their insatiable greed. It is short term gain for the few and long term pain for everyone else.
    The lizard is only one element of a life-web in that region. The demise of a single being indicates the demise of the entire life-web. They used the lizard to save the indigenous trees against the cattle industry, now, they try to use the little humble being to save the the life-web against the greed for oil.
    Of course, what is the most important question to ask? Is there ground water there? Our long term water security is more important than profits for big energy or even short term monetary income for the state.
    When the oil and gas is tapped out, then where will the state turn for funding? We might as well come up with a long term sustainable solution for a viable civilization right now while our water resources are still intact.

  7. I am so disappointed in Mr. Kintigh, who is usually a thoughtful person. It is typical conspiracy “mumbo jumbo” economics blaming the dunes sagebrush lizard for our economic problems. We need to create jobs not go hunting for a lizard.

  8. Thank you Rep. Kintigh, for pointing out yet another example of activist environmentalists with a political agenda twisting, cherry-picking, and misrepresenting science to further that agenda.

  9. I can’t read minds anymore like I used to when I was a liberal fresh out of college but I suspect the concern for the lizard is no more than another battle in the war against OIL. “Big Oil” is a bogeyman for liberals and the use of oil and drilling is a mortal sin to those who worship at the church of the environment. Similarly, the demands for environmental impact statements by the anti-nukes do not reflect a concern for the environment but an attempt to stop weapons activity at Los Alamos.
    We are going to need oil for several more lifetimes. We drill for it here or we buy from other countries but the need will remain. Americans will pay $10 a gallon before they drive a battery-powered car that requires a charge every 100 miles. Battery research has been going on for at least 40 yr so don’t expect a substitute for oil there. Natural gas? Maybe, but the infrastructure that is in place for good old gasoline will be hard to replace.

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