FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Energy Secretary visited Farmington on Wednesday to hear from oil and gas executives on a proposed revision of the state's energy policy, which has not been substantially changed since 1991.

Dave Martin, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, sat with T. Greg Merrion, president of Merrion Oil and Gas, and others and listened to the concerns and suggestions of local people involved in coal, natural gas, crude oil and energy production. It was the first stop in a tour that will include Hobbs, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Albuquerque. During those other stops, topics of discussion will include energy efficiency, renewable energy and biofuels.

"All-of-the-above will produce more jobs," Martin said of including renewable energy. "A lot of these things are going to be region specific."

Martin said people invited to the Wednesday meeting at San Juan College were "targeted" for their local knowledge of the issues. Media was asked not to attend the actual discussions, so business leaders could speak freely, but when a reporter from The Daily Times showed up at the meeting, he was allowed to sit in. Martin spoke to the press after the meeting.

Chris Hunter, who worked for Peabody Coal but spoke as a resident, said he was "opposed to a massive state injection" of money through subsidies unless the investment would clearly establish "sustainable businesses." If subsidies are provided, he said, "we are no different than green energy at that point in time."

Bruce A. Black, president of Black Oil Co., said he didn't mind regulation as long as it's reasonable.

Large fees, endless paperwork and extended delays create unreasonable obstacles, he said, drawing a laugh from many of the approximately 20 participants when he suggested subsidies could be used to pay for the consultants needed to negotiate the process.

"It's a de facto robbery of my constitutional rights to use my property because I own those minerals," Black said.

Energy expert Daniel I. Fine and Cabinet Secretary David Martin speak with reporters on Wednesday at the Quality Center for Business at San Juan College in
Energy expert Daniel I. Fine and Cabinet Secretary David Martin speak with reporters on Wednesday at the Quality Center for Business at San Juan College in Farmington. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

Another participant said that, because the area has no quick access to an international airport or an interstate highway, state incentives could be used to recruit manufacturing to the area.

Daniel I. Fine, who was contracted by the state Energy Department to lead the project, said new manufacturing businesses could replace some of the federal dollars cut from military and national laboratory budgets. As an example, Fine said, manufacturing companies in California -- where regulators are asking that chemicals designated as "toxic" be eliminated from products made there -- might be persuaded to relocate in New Mexico. Many of those products use petrochemical feedstocks.

A local problem, said Chad Thornton, president of C&J Equipment Manufacturing, is attracting engineers to the area. Thornton said that when he talks to engineers about local operations, "I want to know if they're coming to Farmington and if they're going to stay."

After the meeting, Martin and Fine said the new energy plan will be designed to create economic development in the state.

Martin said the department will look at updating regulations "in a separate discussion." He said the plan could look at streamlining the permitting process, including shortening public comment periods.

Martin also said he plans a separate meeting with Navajo Nation officials.

"We hope it's (the plan) going to have a significant impact, but we're just starting the process," Martin said. "We don't have a fixed deadline. We're looking at about nine months, maybe up to a year."

At the end of the comment session, Thornton spoke for those in the community skeptical about state promises to boost the depressed local economy.

"I don't know if I'll get any follow up," he said. "I don't know what's going to come of this."

Chris Roberts is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4624.and Follow him on Twitter @4estate on Twitter.