Hard-fought rules add oil field jobs

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It’s the political bluster that hides the good news

By John Bartlit

  People dearly want a lasting supply of clean air  and water. The answer is pollution control.    
As more people make and use more stuff, pollution  sources grow to need more controls. The controls add jobs in the pollution  controls industry. The bonus is more of the clean air and water people  want.
In mid-October, a black headline glared from  the Albuquerque Journal. It read: “Jackpot in the Oil  Patch - State Rules Helped Politically Connected Players.”  
The front-page report hit on the eternal thought  that campaign money might sway things. If it might, new money that sways  towards the middle is a step forward.     
The oil-patch piece spoke of the “Pit Rule.” The  rule requires new pollution controls to be used for the salty, oily drilling  wastes from oilfields.
The rule grew from more  than a year of statewide meetings and negotiations among regulators, oil and  gas people, ranchers and other citizens.
Verbatim  hearing records disclose the science basis for rules, which the oil lobby  hides. The hearing on the pit rule lasted 17 days and produced a record of  5,075 pages, filled with expert technical testimony, exhibits and  cross-examination on all sides. Most expert testimony was hired. A lot of the  rest came from us.    
The oil and  gas lobby claimed that the one or two percent added cost for modern waste  handling would force them to flee the state. The rule was adopted in 2008,  which brought an appeal to the governor and to the Court of  Appeals.    
This year’s elections  in New Mexico whipped up a campaign squall over the pit rule and the claimed  threat to the oil and gas business and state revenues. Some candidates  promised to scrap the pit rule if elected.
As the  bluster grew, the oil lobby ignored the news about actual revenues. The  state’s leasing revenues set a record this year, as the world price of crude  oil rose from the previous lows.
The data tell the  real story.
In the first year of the pit rule,  the number of drilling rigs working in New Mexico fell by 51.2 percent, over  half the drilling was lost. Over the same period, drilling rigs working in the  nation fell a similar 51.4 percent, a worse loss.
Rules differ by state. The drop in oil price is the same everywhere, which  caused the same loss seen everywhere. Drilling activity always rises and falls  with the price of oil and gas.
See how the data  show what political bluster hides.     
Future New Mexico oil business is reflected by how much  money the state land office collects for leasing initial rights to drill on  state land. For the year ending in mid 2010, these lease sales brought in more than $72 million, a record high. The old record was $61 million in 2006, before the  pit rule.     
Thus, the pit  rule is not the culprit. It did not chase away oil business. To the contrary,  it created new oil-field jobs in the business of pollution control, which  leaves cleaner land and cleaner water in aquifers that people  want.
Against this happy outcome, the  Journal story read darkly. It said a company that made money  controlling oil-field pollution had “contributed more than $100,000” to Gov. Bill Richardson’s election campaign.
Beware of  customs! A feature of every election cycle is “dollar diplomacy.” Oil  companies always give large sums to candidates; they seek weak rules.
This  year oil companies backed candidates with donations many times more than the  $100,000.   
Why should not other, newer  companies also work through the democratic process for rules they want?  
In their case, the rules they want help clean the  water, protect the land and add pollution control jobs in the process.
 Meanwhile the oil business keeps on, and uses cleaner methods.  
The improvement is worth voting  for.     
John Bartlit
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air &  Water