Inside the Capitol

Saturday, October 08, 2005

10-12 Let's Discuss Otero Mesa

WED, 10-12-05

ALAMOGORDO -- While traveling this area of southern New Mexico for X Prize events, I've had an opportunity to see Otero Mesa again for at least the hundredth time. And still for the life of me, I can't see the pristine landscape that causes environmentalists and their political allies to oppose drilling in the area.
House Republican Whip Terry Marquardt, who represents this area in the state Legislature, has been trying to get the drilling started for five years, without much success. Now is the time, he says, to get serious about drilling.
With growing oil and gas shortages and soaring prices, this is the time, he says, to have a deliberative discussion about drilling. So Marquardt introduced a joint memorial in the current special legislative session, calling for the state Land Commissioner and the federal Bureau of Land Management to allow increased drilling on Otero Mesa.
Marquardt's effort won't go anywhere. Democrats maneuver the levers of power in Santa Fe and they are likely to rule that legislation relating to energy has no place in a session devoted to energy. That's just the way politics works. If Democrats liked Marquardt's idea, they would kill it anyway, and introduce an identical bill of their own.
And don't think Democrats pull these kinds of shenanigans because they are despicable people. Republicans do the same thing when they are in power.
And so, a good idea that would increase oil and gas supplies and reduce prices for New Mexicans will be dumped during a special session to address those exact issues.
We are told that Otero Mesa is the last of the untouched, pristine, wild Chihuahuan desert grasslands, unparalleled by any other in the world. It is home to over 1,000 native wildlife species, the healthiest herd of pronghorn antelope in the state and the largest, untapped fresh water aquifer in the state, called the Salt Basin.
That aquifer seems poorly named for a body of fresh water. But even if it were salty, scientists can do wonderful things with desalinization -- and they're doing it everywhere but New Mexico, where people also find reasons not to drill for water, either.
We wonder why New Mexico is last in most of the economic indices. It's because we're so good at keeping each other from dong anything. Recently this column complained about New Mexico's Indians finding any land of value in the state to be sacred. Environmentalists are no different. It's all sacred to them too, even if it's a desert.
Other areas of New Mexico also are said to have large untapped, underground aquifers, but none of them ever seem to get tapped.
One of those large untapped aquifers is in the Estancia Valley, which could supply water to both Albuquerque and Santa Fe. But the farmers, under whose land the brackish water lies, have blocked efforts to develop it. And even if it were available, Santa Fe wouldn't use it because of its no-growth policy that is justified primarily by a lack of available water. Go figure.
So environmentalists shouldn't give us any justifications about valuable water under the Otero Mesa, because they'll find reason not to ever tap it anyway.
Evidently their problem is that the drilling activity will foul the fresh water. But drilling methods have greatly improved over the years to the point they are much less invasive. Environmental requirements are now very strict.
The Bureau of Land Management, which administers much of the Otero Mesa land, ensures that drillers comply with those standards. The environmental restrictions written for Otero Mesa are the toughest the BLM has ever required.
So it seems time to entertain Rep. Marquardt's suggestion to have a "deliberative discussion" about what opening Otero Mesa to more oil and gas exploration might do to increase our supply of oil and natural gas and reduce our dependency on foreign nations.



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