Oil and Gas Fuel Global Warming — and Public Education


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Irene Pierpont

The effects that climate change is having on our world are getting more severe, and the oil and gas industry in New Mexico is contributing to those effects. However, switching to renewable energy sources is not as simple as we would hope due to how heavily New Mexico relies on the revenue generated by these industries.

With a state budget of around $7 billion per year, approximately $2 billion comes from oil and gas, according to the New Mexico Legislature website. And a large amount of this revenue goes directly into public education.

Policymaker Suni Stewart said in a private interview that there are two important aspects of the oil and gas industry that should be common knowledge for New Mexicans: “How much of education funding comes directly from oil and gas and how we need this revenue, we depend on this revenue, but we know the future depends on us getting off of oil and gas.”

Due to how well these industries have been doing recently, public education has benefited. Teachers around the state have received on average 6 percent raises, according to energyindepth.org. Students themselves have benefited as well. More money from these industries means more money going into the school system, which can result in better learning environments for students.

But the other side of this coin applies as well: If the oil and gas industry is not making plenty of income, the amount of money put into the schools decreases.

The way the state makes a profit off of this industry is through royalties, which is the process of an oil or gas company essentially renting the mineral rights of a piece of land. These royalties are paid to whomever owns the land, whether that is the state or a private landowner.

The other way that the state benefits from the oil and gas industry is through taxes, where the oil or gas company pays a percentage of their income to the state. This money is then used for all of the things that taxes support, such as maintaining roads, public education and other needs.

Although there are many issues with the oil and gas industry, New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard is working to resolve some of them. For example, she is increasing royalty rates from 20 to 25 percent. This increase would allow the state to profit more from the industry.

Another thing the commissioner is working toward is creating ways to hold companies accountable for pollution and spills. She is also working to ensure that there is no venting or flaring taking place in drilling areas. Doing this may prevent these industries from wasting state money and natural resources.

New Mexico has the potential to generate large amounts of solar and wind power. According to Stewart, even with this huge potential, the amount of money generated from these industries would likely place somewhere in the tens of millions, hardly touching the approximately $2 billion brought in by oil and gas annually.