Former Vice President Mike Pence called the Permian Basin “the heart” of America’s energy industry, amid the region’s recent growth in oil and gas production in southeast New Mexico during a Thursday visit to Artesia.
Pence met with elected officials and executives from fossil fuel companies at the Artesia Public Schools administration building for an invite-only “energy roundtable” hosted by the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
Artesia Mayor Jon Henry, also an Eddy County commissioner, gave prepared remarks before Pence’s 10-minute speech ahead of the meeting.
After that, journalists from the Carlsbad Current-Argus, TV news outlet KOB and Artesia-based KSVP Radio were escorted out of the auditorium and asked to leave the event.
Also in attendance for the discussion were New Mexico Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54) and Eddy County Manager Al Davis, but they made no public statements.
“I thought there was nowhere better to come than literally the heart of an energy renaissance. I want to commend all of you for the role you played in that,” Pence said to attendees.
He argued the Permian Basin was the at the center of the administration of former-President Donald Trump’s push for the U.S.’ “energy independence” and criticized President Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election, for policy Pence said created obstacles to energy production.
“The truth is the energy crisis America is facing today is a manmade energy crisis,” Pence said.“The answer is to unleash American energy and give the people access to all the God-given resources they can.”
His visit to New Mexico came about a month away from a mid-term election including hotly contested races for governor between Democrat incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and former meteorologist Mark Ronchetti.
New Mexico’s Second Congressional District is also on the ballot as U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) was challenged by former Dona Ana County Commissioner Gave Vasquez.
The former vice president was the latest well-known Republican to visit southern New Mexico, following Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ visit to a campaign event for Ronchetti in August in Carlsbad and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stumping in Las Cruces Monday for Herrell.
But the event was not characterized as a campaign stop, instead a discussion between energy leaders and Pence as chairman of Advancing American Freedom, a conservative non-profit group he founded last year.
The group’s advisory board, per its website, also included GOP leaders like former Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy Devos and Rick Santorum.
Pence said he was planning a visit to Roswell later in the day to campaign with Rochetti and didn’t shy away from political messaging ahead of the meeting,
“We did it once, we’ll do it again,” Pence said. “We’ve got an election in about 32 days. It’s a big one in New Mexico.”
He attacked the Biden administration as responsible for rising gas prices, which analysts said were largely tied to supply constraints as the market recovered from COVID-19.
Oil prices, and subsequently gas prices, were also driven upward after Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, which led to Russia, the second-biggest oil producer in the world, being largely shunned by the international community and removed from global markets.
This put more strain on U.S. producers and thus increased the value of American fossil fuels as European countries sought to fill their own supply gaps.
“How times have changed. Now we’ve arrived at a time where gasoline prices are up 60 percent on average and expected to rise,” Pence said.
“Employers are being crushed under high energy prices everywhere we go. Traveling across the country, I hear about the pain that American families and American businesses are facing because of the policies of the current administration in Washington, D.C.”
Henry, mayor of Artesia, agreed with Pence and argued the regulatory environment in New Mexico was burdensome to oil and gas at both the state and federal level as recent policies were opposed by industry.
This year, the New Mexico Environment Department enacted stricter rules on oil and gas emissions, increasing requirements for leak detection, repair and reporting, a move that drew a lawsuit for trade group the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico.
And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in June it was considering designating the entire Permian Basin region in New Mexico and Texas in violation of federal air quality standards due to air pollution emissions mostly from fossil fuel operations, a status that could lead to restrictions on permitting for oil and gas facilities like wells and pipelines.
Henry said oil and gas workers “live and work every day to provide energy to our community, country and the world often in an unfriendly environment.”
“Our industry business strives to do their best as some of the most forward-thinking energy producers,” he said.
The visit drew criticism from environmental groups in New Mexico, who argued more profits for oil and gas companies could mean more pollution.
Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians tweeted during Pence’s event that expanded oil and gas production in New Mexico would increase environmental degradation throughout the region and U.S.
“The Permian fracking boom will bust the climate, create toxic air and water, and intensify environmental injustice from NM to the Gulf Coast,” read the WildEarth Guardians tweet.
Scientists from Stanford University in a March study found greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas can rise during times of market growth and high prices for oil and gas.
Elevated greenhouse gas emissions were observed via aircraft monitoring, per the study, in 2018 and 2019 – years of record-level production in the Permian – at an about 9.4 percent loss rate, meaning that fraction of natural gas produced in the region was released into the air.
Some of the locations surveyed in the study emitted up to 10 tons of methane per hour, the study read.
“It’s very high loss rate compared to other estimates we’ve seen for the Permian Basin,” said Evan Sherwin, a co-author of the study. “In 2019, there was rapid growth particularly for oil. The normal profit incentives to capture that gas was very low.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.