Jeff Byrd, New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner District 2

As a rancher, former employee at Navajo Refining and an individual with a degree in Agricultural Engineering from New Mexico State University, I come at questions about energy development from a multitude of angles. Every single angle leads me to believe that state and federal lawmakers must cut red tape so we can expand natural gas production and delivery. 


As someone who has worked the land, I know American farmers and ranchers could not survive without a reliable and affordable energy supply. The American Farm Bureau Federation reminds us that, in the recent past (does anyone remember the late 1970s?) tight oil and natural gas supplies drove energy prices sky-high. Farmer and rancher production costs hit the roof as a result. The Farm Bureau remembers, and warns “In the near term, stopping exploration for and use of” natural gas “cannot be done without severely disrupting our economy and threatening Americans’ standard of living.” 


Consumers’ standard of living would decline because they would be paying more for groceries at the store so would have less money left over for housing, transportation and other necessities. Take bread, for example. One of the single biggest costs in grain production is drying, but the nation’s grain farmers can save a lot of money by switching to natural gas. In fact, consumers can reduce costs by up to 50 percent by switching from a propane-powered drying to a one that runs on natural gas. 


As a former energy industry worker, I know natural gas sustains thousands of well-paying jobs. The industry already is responsible for more than 100,000 jobs in the state and has an an annual economic impact of $12.8 billion. For every drilling rig we bring into the state, we add another 50 to 100 jobs. According to the website ZipRecruiter, the average salary for one of these guys or gals is more than $80,000 a year. That is a life-changing sum for many families in this great state.   


The industry is pretty recession-proof too. According to the U.S. Labor Department, from 2007 to 2012, total annual average employment in all U.S. industries fell 3.7 million, or 2.7 percent. Employment in the oil and gas sector rose 31.6 percent during that period, however. Since we all are looking over our shoulders, wondering when the longest-expansion in history is going to end, this benefit is a pretty big one.


As an environmental engineer, I also know natural gas does good for our families in other ways. The air we breathe is getting better because of natural gas. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data indicate that, in 2017, greenhouse gas emissions in general were at their lowest level in 25 years and methane emissions were down 18.8 percent from 1990. Those drops come despite the fact that consumers are using a lot more gas today. And let’s not forget water. Exploration for natural gas has resulted in zero groundwater contaminations in over 50 years.


There also is no doubt that natural gas has made the United States less dependent on foreign regimes for our energy. The nation now exports more energy than it imports, and that’s because of natural gas. For me, that means our leaders in Washington will have less impulse to spend blood and treasure fighting battles in the Middle East. 


As a consumer, I’m drawn to natural gas not only because it is affordable. It has changed this country’s position in the world, and has made us safer. That’s peace of mind that’s hard to buy.


Jeff Byrd is a New Mexico Regulation Commissioner representing District 2