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Is "Dark Money" Influencing New Mexico's Oil and Gas Conversation?

State economists say New Mexico state government is increasingly reliant on surging income from the oil and natural gas sectors. (
State economists say New Mexico state government is increasingly reliant on surging income from the oil and natural gas sectors. (
November 1, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico's oil and gas industry is currently providing the state's economy with a historic financial boost, but conservation groups worry about its transparency – and whether a pledge to reduce methane emissions is sincere.

Lucas Herndon, deputy managing director with ProgressNow New Mexico, says an out-of-state lobbying group called "Power the Future" is behind the Oil and Gas Association's messaging. He says environmentalists have been called "radical" by Power the Future's founder, which raises concerns about the group's agenda.

"Who is this lobby group that's working in New Mexico on behalf of oil and gas companies,” Herndon asks, “and spending so much money and political will on influencing our state legislature and state government?"

Prior to her election in 2016, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham promised to expand the state's oil-dependent economy. But she recently told industry leaders she hopes New Mexico can overtake North Dakota as the nation's number-two oil producer while also designing new regulations for methane emissions.

The Trump administration is attempting to roll back methane controls.

Protesters gathered outside the Santa Fe oil and gas industry event last month where Lujan Grisham spoke. Many described a disconnect between the governor's pledge to pursue aggressive goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and her support for oil production.

Herndon says ProgressNow understands that oil and gas revenues help the state pay its bills, but he says residents should feel confident that the process doesn't include "backroom deals."

"If the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association is going and speaking to our lawmakers, that it's really on behalf of the New Mexicans that they say they represent,” says Herndon. “And not these giant national, multi-national, global corporations.”

Oil and gas revenues fund major spending initiatives in New Mexico including public education, health-care and infrastructure projects.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM