by Mark Richardson, Public News Service–NM
March 24, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico schoolchildren are being shortchanged millions of dollars by oil and gas companies that vent or flare natural gas into the atmosphere, according to a new report.

The study by the Western Values Project says a proposed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regulation would require producers on public lands to pay royalties on that methane gas that otherwise escapes.

James Jimenez, director of policy research and advocacy integration with New Mexico Voices for Children, says school districts’ budgets are hurting without that revenue.

“We do an annual report updating how the Legislature funds our school districts with respect to not only nominal dollars, but we look at: Is it keeping up with inflation?” he explains. “Is it keeping up with the growth of the student population? And the answer is a resounding, ‘No.’ Our schools are hurting.”

The study conservatively estimates that New Mexico schools lost upwards of $52 million in tax revenue over a recent five-year period.

Jimenez says that means fewer new textbooks, a shortage of classroom supplies and fewer repairs for school facilities.

New Mexico law mandates that federal mineral royalties be used to fund education.

Chris Saeger, coauthor of the Western Values Project study, says the BLM regulations would require operators to adopt proven, efficient technologies to increase the amount of gas they capture, as well as prevent leaks.

“What this BLM rule proposes to do is to charge a royalty on that gas that is vented and flared, as opposed to sold,” he explains. “Because it is, after all, a public resource that belongs to all American taxpayers. ”

Federal mineral revenues account for about one-third of New Mexico’s annual general fund, but Saeger says it could be much more if producers pay royalties on vented or flared natural gas.

The public comment period on the proposed rule ends April 8.

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