Natural Gas Doors Open Across Country, NY Watches Through Peephole

On the same day the Independent Democrat Caucus in New York announced  another piece of proposed legislation to delay development of the Marcellus Shale in New York, two representatives from a premiere energy conference in New Mexico heralded success on the radio and praise for energy operators.

The San Juan Basin Energy Conference, (www.sanjuanbasinenergy.org) happening in Farmington, NM on March 18 and 19 is already sold out, with operators traveling to northwest New Mexico from all over the country and beyond. According to the website, this conference will bring together parties interested in Mancos Shale development, considered the next significant oil and gas shale play in that region.  Developing this play is heralded as a renaissance for this region after nearly a century of petroleum geology and activity.

Interest in this conference has come from as far away as Bulgaria. Last June, Bulgarian Parliament eased its ban on hydraulic fracturing, to take advantage of its natural gas reserves and lessen the country’s dependency on Russian resources.

“It’s a real opportunity to bring everyone together,” Randy Pacheco, dean of the San Juan College School of Energy (http://www.sanjuancollege.edu/energy) said on The Scott Michlin Morning Show, at KSJE.com in Farmington, NM.  Hear the entire program here: http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/ksje/.jukebox?action=viewMedia&mediaId=1024511.

Full disclosure: program host Michlin is a native New Yorker who has lived in New Mexico for 22 years. He sees the economic impact a robust energy industry has in a community. He teaches at San Juan College, where the School of Energy is a national leader in educating tomorrow’s energy professionals. He also lived in New York’s struggling Southern Tier for several years and knows the region needs an economic boost.

The focus of this conference will be the game-changing activity of the Mancos Shale play, anticipated to be rich with oil reserves.  This area of New Mexico has traditionally been the place for natural gas development.  Hydraulic fracturing, however, is opening the door to oil production here, which was previously limited to southeast New Mexico. “It’s going to be important for oil production. It’s a new venture and it’s welcomed here,” said Dean Pacheco.

open_door_to_opportunity1Dean Pacheco spoke words that would endear New Yorkers in the Southern Tier, if only they were spoken here. “It’s a very interesting time here in the San Juan Basin because we’re starting to see an evolution of energy. Not only have we produced trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and millions of gallons of oil and terawatts of electricity.   As you start to see natural gas and how we use natural gas, the San Juan Basin will continue to be a major player in energy production in the US. We need to come together as a community – education, government and business –  to insure that we can position this for our local residents.”

During this 37-minute interview, there was concern expressed about regulation, whether it’s at the state, county or municipal level, but the concern was that regs don’t penalize the operators.

Said Dr. Jim Henderson, former president of San Juan College and a former county commissioner, “We don’t apologize for that. It’s served this area pretty well.  We all agree that we want good air and clean water, but I think you have to come to some balance.”

In a separate conversation, Pacheco spoke very passionately about the energy industry in New Mexico. As a fourth generation resident from a small community in the northwest corner of the state, he knows first hand how erring on the side of environmental caution can backlash. “My small community was devastated when the logging industry was stopped there, all to protect the spotted owl. The spotted owl was more important than the community that lived there.”

He continued, “We are a very poor state, without a lot of options. We’re not positioned to tell the energy industry no drilling, no fracking.  At the School of Energy we try to explain to the people that energy operators are global companies and don’t have to do business here.”

Training tomorrow’s energy workforce is more than giving them knowledge and experience in the natural gas, oil and ‘green’ energies, too.  It’s a hard lesson in consumerism. He says, “Kids need to understand if you got rid of energy there are no cell phones, no Facebook, no Twitter. (Without energy) you’ll still buy their product, drive your cars, take hot showers and heat your home.”

It was a different story 2100 miles away. Today in Albany, Senator David Carlucci (representing Rockland and Westchester counties, where Marcellus Shale development is unlikely)  introduced legislation that would suspend hydraulic fracturing for another 24 months. This delay would allow three health impact studies (including the Geisinger study, 20-year project in its earliest stages which is still without all of its funding) to be completed.

In a press release, Sen. Carlucci said, “A quick buck is not worth the long-term debt that our children will have to live with if we get this decision wrong.” This echoes other legislation proposed by Assemblymember Robert Sweeney last month.  Counter this with Dr.  Henderson’s comments in New Mexico, “Sometimes we forget that our kids and our grandkids got to have some kind of future. That’s what we’re doing, we’re building a better community. We need jobs: that’s what anchors things. That’s what makes a good community.”

So while New Mexico dusts off the welcome mat for new development, New York is still looking out the keyhole and wondering what might, would, or could happen here if the door is really opened.

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