“60 Day Pause” Causes Confusion

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Carlsbad  remains at the center of the debate concerning President Biden’s executive orders putting a “pause” on drilling on public lands. While the long-term consequences of such orders are of the greatest concern to many residents, there’s also a significant amount of immediate confusion being caused by one of the orders. 

To clarify, there have been two orders related to oil and gas drilling. 

On his second day in office, the President issued a 60-day order requiring that the heads of all agencies “immediately review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies and any other agency action.” In other words, just about every single routine permit or process normally approved by the BLM office in Carlsbad – even follow-up or safety actions – now has to be vetted through Washington D.C. through March 21. 

On Jan. 27, the President issued an order, which did not have a time limit, pausing new oil and natural gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters.

We certainly have a large number of concerns related to both orders, but the first order in particular has caused considerable confusion and frustration for everyone involved. Our local BLM employees aren’t allowed to complete their jobs, and all processes are slowed as paperwork trickles from Carlsbad, to the state, to D.C. The D.C. office also seems confused about what their guidelines are. 

This has had many unintended consequences.  Slowing or stopping these routine permitting processes presents a number of immediate safety risks. Stopping rights of way permits for new pipelines, for example, means more trucks will haul oil and produced water.  Other permits allow companies to use recycled or produced water instead of freshwater.  Many of those routine processes, it turns out, are the kind of activities that people who might have concerns about the oil and gas industry would probably want to see move along quickly.  

Thankfully, there seems to be bipartisan interest in at least clearing up the considerable amount of confusion caused by the 60-day order. In a Feb. 9 letter, N.M. Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst contacted the Biden administration and asked for clarification. 

“Specifically, right of way approvals are critical to ensure that new wells will have take-away capacity for their natural gas and not be forced to vent or flare. In addition, right of way approvals are needed for lay-flat pipelines which transport water to and from well sites during completions activity. These lay-flat pipelines facilitate the reuse of produced water in completions operations, which takes pressure off New Mexico’s precious freshwater resources for use in oil and gas operations,” Cottrell Propst wrote. 

Senator Heinrich’s office has also assured us that they are working on streamlining the procedures disrupted by the 60-day pause. 

While we doubt that slowing or halting the placement of pipes were what the Biden administration had in mind when this executive order was issued, the resulting chaos remains a reality. 

Perhaps future discussions related to the oil and gas industry could carefully consider the many nuances and complexities of the situation, instead of coming across as knee-jerk political moves inconsiderate of any real-world consequences. 

Sincerely,

Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway

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