My son and I own four ranches in southeastern New Mexico. We are fourth-generation New Mexicans and have ranched in concert with oil and gas development for over 25 years. Our ranches total 153,000 acres, about 108,000 acres are Bureau of Land Management lands. The balance of the land is either deeded or state land.

President Joe Biden’s recent executive order on oil and gas development on federal lands gives us great concern, specifically the possible denial of new rights of ways allowing for pipelines to transport oil, gas and produced water. This policy will cause a tremendous negative impact to the environment and will compromise our ability to ranch safely.

Our Twin Wells South Ranch is possibly the most active public land ranch for oil and gas development in the Delaware Basin. A recent vehicle count related to oil and gas activity measured 2,255 vehicles on an average day. There are over 400 new wells planned on the South Ranch. There are 35 drilled wells that are uncompleted. There are scores of existing wells. We have worked with most major oil producers and several pipeline companies. We have production on the ranches from many of the largest oil and gas producers in New Mexico, as well as some of the most active pipeline developers.

With one exception, each of these companies has treated us well and supported us running our business while conducting theirs. We have witnessed the drilling and fracking of scores of wells with no serious safety concerns. To be sure, significant interruption does occur when fracking is taking place: There are 200-plus vehicles on site daily for a few weeks, but we manage through that. The industry has made good progress in capturing methane, minimizing spills and utilizing produced water for fracking.

Oil and gas and ranchers have coexisted for decades and still do, for the most part. However, the intensity of new drilling creates an impactful level of activity that makes running our business difficult. Ranching on the South Ranch is like running cows in downtown Denver. Our permits on the South Ranch allow us to run 710 cows yearlong. We are currently running 290 head due to drought but mostly to excessive oil and gas activity. We have consolidated cattle into two of 10 pastures to avoid conflicts between our cattle operations and oil and gas operations.

All of the oil and gas producers we know have literally hundreds of permits in place to drill and complete wells on public lands. When new wells are completed, if there are no new pipelines, trucks will haul the oil and produced water. Trucks cause untold damage in the form of dust as well as carbon output from diesel engines. Trucks kill people and cows, spill product, kill vegetation from excessive dust and make roads impassable.

If new rights of way are approved, several wells are piped into a central tank battery, and that output is piped to various locations. Central-tank batteries are overseen by one pumper in a pickup. However, without new rights of way, produced oil and water will be placed in tanks on each location, requiring thousands of loads to be trucked to distribution points. The number of trucks required to transport the newly produced oil and water will devastate the ranches. Pipeline rights of way cause interruptions during construction but afterward do not pose the issues that trucks do, if the pipelines are properly reseeded.

Frankly, even though oil and gas can interrupt our business, we hope the new Biden administration policy will allow an orderly transition from our current model of fossil fuel consumption to include more sustainable energy sources. But denying new rights of way will damage the ranches we work to protect.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, will you stand up for the ranchers and farmers of New Mexico? Don’t let the war on fossil fuels make ranchers and farmers collateral damage. 

Steve Mccutcheon and Steven Mccutcheon II are ranchers in Southern New Mexico, including Twin Wells Ranch near Carlsbad.


(3) comments

Mike Johnson

Well spoken by people who understand the situations because they live in the middle of it. You can add to this the people who live along any railroad anywhere in the nation. As Biden bans any pipelines, the gas and oil that will have to be transported for many decades to come will be force to go by rail. This is inefficient, slow, expensive, but most of all very dangerous. Accidents will happen, far more and far worse than any pipeline has seen, and people will die, be injured, and their water and air will be affected far worse than any pipeline. But, you see, politicians are stupid and self-centered, and they do not understand reality, only pandering to rich, elite eco-socialist special interests that fund their campaigns and keep them in office.

Bruce Taylor

The end goal, as fast as possible, must be to end oil and gas drilling and all related infrastructure. Frankly, the rights of children 15 and under five for a future of a sustainable, renewable, regenerative New Mexico economy are more than equal to wealthy ranchers and landholders. The end of all oil and gas extraction and its pumping, pipeline and storage infrastructure must end. Now. Within this decade. The future economy is circular and renewable and regenerative. Clean. Any developmental effort to the contrary is deeply socially and ethically flawed.

Jim Klukkert

It is heartening to read the Mccutcheons write that “we hope the new Biden administration policy will allow an orderly transition from our current model of fossil fuel consumption to include more sustainable energy sources.”

My enthusiasm is dimmed however, when I read “Oil and gas and ranchers have coexisted for decades and still do, for the most part,” as this view does not acknowledge the damage done by the fossil-fuel energy sold by the Oil and Gas industry.

While one can sympathize with the Mccutcheon’s thoughtful plea for measured, sensitive adjustments to President Biden’s executive order restricting some the continuing O&G fossil fuel development, it is important to consider the time grows short to implement restrictions that are long overdue.

Certainly, more moderate and carefully measures might have been possible decades ago, when Climate Change had not yet become a Global Crisis. Alas, Big Energy paid for Faux Science, and persuaded too many that moving away from fossil fuels was the better choice. Late in the day, corrections may be made in some haste, resulting in ‘collateral damage’ to good folks like the Mccutcheons.

Any such damage is the responsibility of those who denied science, and so postponed an appropriate response to the existential threat that is Global Climate Disruption.

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