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Towns impacted by Biden's temporary oil drilling ban worry what could be next

Oil drilling New Mexico
Posted at 7:13 AM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 09:48:51-05

CARLSBAD, N.M. — One of the biggest priorities for President Joe Biden is addressing climate change and the environment.

However, every action has a reaction. Every move has the potential to impact the economy in some form.

One example is Biden's moratorium on new drilling on federal lands.

NEW MEXICO'S STORY

Carlsbad, New Mexico is by most objective accounts a pretty remote place.

The town, located in southeast New Mexico, is two hours from the nearest airport.

"It’s a wonderful place to live," said Rev. David Wilson, a local pastor who moved to the city more than 20 years ago.

For Wilson, nearby national parks like the Carlsbad Caverns and the Guadalupe Mountains make the area particularly beautiful.

However, there is one view Wilson can not stand — drilling and fracking on federal lands.

"We have a sacred obligation to care for the earth," Wilson said. "You go on Google Earth and you will see just a patchwork of oil sites."

Indeed, the region around Carlsbad is considered to be some of the richest oil and gas lands in the entire world.

The region also has millions of acres of federal lands that are impacted by Biden's order.

Wilson is grateful the new administration took the first step to institute a pause.

"The drive for profit and money is at the cost of the environment," Wilson said.

TOWN LEADERS ARE CONCERNED

"(Biden's drilling moratorium) created a significant amount of uncertainty," said Allen Davis, the manager of Eddy County, which includes Carlsbad.

Davis said shutting down new oil and gas sites is like shutting off the local economy.

How important is oil and gas to New Mexico? Drilling on federal lands contributed $707 million in 2020 to the state — 10% of the entire state budget.

"During the boom, this was the most active basin, literally, in the world," Davis said.

Davis said that most of that money the state earns for oil drilling goes to schools.

"That’s the part that is concerning. Where else is that money going to come from?" Davis said.

UNCERTAINTY WITH WHAT IS NEXT

For the moment, Davis says Eddy County is OK because Biden's order is temporary.

However, he is worried more restrictions will follow and he believes getting approval for new sites in D.C. will be more complicated than previous policies.

Under the Trump administration, for instance, the local field office of the Bureau of Land Management could approve new drilling sites on their own.

As for Wilson, he recognizes change is tough but believes it is necessary.

"It cannot be so wholly dependent on oil and gas," Wilson said.