The oil and gas industry in New Mexico faces some unique challenges.
It is a top contributor to the health and wealth of New Mexico’s economy. It is also one of the most maligned and misunderstood industries in New Mexico. The industry and special interest groups equally share credit for advancing certain issues and messages while ignoring others.
The industry is subject to eight different taxation mechanisms. In 2012, oil and natural gas operations contributed $1.595 billion to the General Fund, nearly 28 percent of the total. In turn, these funds were distributed to public schools, higher education, health and human services, courts, public safety and other government programs. Additionally, New Mexico received $550 million in payments from the Permanent Fund, an endowment set aside for education in the state. The natural gas and oil industry also provides nearly 33,000 jobs for New Mexico residents.
Out of New Mexico’s 33 counties, only eight produce natural gas and oil. In the northwestern corner of the state the counties of San Juan, Rio Arriba, McKinley, and Sandoval produce mostly natural gas out of the San Juan Basin. In the southeastern corner of the state the counties of Roosevelt, Chaves, Lea, and Eddy produce mostly oil from the Permian Basin.
The oil and gas industry is faced with opponents surfacing moratorium discussions before elected and appointed officials in producing and non producing counties. Over the last seven years two of New Mexico’s 33 counties have banned an aspect of oil and gas production.
In 2013, The Garrity Group commissioned the firm’s third consecutive Garrity Perception Survey, which gauges perception of New Mexico residents. The survey measures favorability of industries, trust in professions and how residents access news and information. The oil and gas industry is one of the 17 industries measured in our survey.
The general year to year numbers show a nominal decline in favorability of the oil and gas industry by New Mexico residents; down two percent over a three-year period (2011: 42 percent in 2011 and 40 percent in 2013).
However, the cross-tabs (information that reveals specific demographic and geographic information) show some great turmoil in specific geographic regions.
- In the North Central region, those who were favorable of the industry declined by 8 percent while residents who are unfavorable increased by the same amount over the last three years.
- The three regions of the state where residents are unfavorable to the oil and gas industry are in the North Central (36 percent), Southwest (34 percent) and Albuquerque (27 percent) areas.
- Favorability of the oil and gas industry among residents in the North Central and Southwest regions dropped significantly from 2012-2013; Favorability is down 14 percent in the North Central region and 11 percent in the Southwest region.
- Residents in Eastern New Mexico, a typical energy stronghold, are not as favorable to oil and gas as they once used to be. In 2011 64 percent of residents were favorable toward the industry; three years later only 51 percent of Eastern New Mexico residents are favorable toward the industry.
- Northwest New Mexico was the only part of the state where residents increased favorability of the industry from 54 percent in 2011 to 61 percent in 2013.
The significant swings of favorability in the oil and gas industry is an indication that a one size fits all message that might test well in one part of the state will fail in another.
While New Mexico’s diversity of culture is something to celebrate, sometimes messages and messengers tailored to specific cultural communities are needed to create relevance among target audiences.
While that solution appears to be unique to the oil and gas industry, it is a solution that all industries should recognize and apply to their community outreach endeavors.