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AG Clears Behavioral Health Providers

From KNME-TV, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced this week that an investigation did not find credible evidence of fraud at 10 more behavioral health providers across the state. In 2013, the New Mexico Human Services Department cut off Medicaid funding to 15 providers after alleging fraudulent billing and misuse of funds. This week on New Mexico in Focus, host Gene Grant leads a discussion on this issue with the Line opinion panelists. Watch it now by watching the You Tube link at the bottom of the page.

Workforce Solutions Head Says There Are Plenty Of Jobs In Eddy County

Noreen Teel says despite layoffs from area oil and gas companies, the unemployment rate in Eddy County is below the state’s rate, 4.5% vs. 6.8% and there are least 1,700 jobs in Eddy County. She says her office is ready to help. 

Clinical Trial Offers New Drug Combo To Fight Lung Cancer

The 1,000 people in New Mexico fighting lung cancer may soon be able to breathe easier. The first of more than 10 new lung cancer clinical trials has just opened under the direction of Yanis Boumber(pictured), MD, PhD. Boumber is a lung cancer expert and physician-scientist at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center. The phase 3 clinical trial, called “Neptune,” opened January 28. It compares a combination of two immune drugs with standard chemotherapy. It is one of the first clinical trials to test immune drugs as a first line treatment for lung cancer.

Holiday Closings Announced

Monday is President’s Day and that means some people have the day off. School kids in Artesia will be taking a break from their studies, that includes DD Pre-School. School resumes Tuesday. Eddy County offices will be closed as well although ECSO deputies will be on duty and the Road Department will have a crew on call, according to County Manager Rick Rudometkin. Lincoln National Forest Offices will be closed Monday,in observance of Presidents’ Day. That includes offices in Carlsbad, Cloudcroft and Ruidoso. Regular business hours will resume on Tuesday. While offices will be closed on Monday, Presidents’ Day is one of five “Fee Free Days” scheduled in 2016. The fee waiver encourages people to get outside and enjoy their public lands! Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area on the Guadalupe Ranger District will be a Fee Free site on Monday.

Deadly Horse Disease Reported

Horse owners are concerned about a new outbreak of a deadly horse disease. Dalene Hodnett(pictured) has details.

Robert Wachter Seeking City Council Seat

He is running for the District 3 spot in Artesia, which is currently occupied by Jeff Youtsey. The challenger has lived in Artesia since 2011 and works at CVE. He serves on a couple of boards and was involved in student government at ENMU in Portales. (Photo courtesy of Robert Wachter) 

Rep. Jim Townsend Offers Legislative Update

The 2016 New Mexico Legislative Session is heading into the final turns and the Artesia State Rep. offers information on bills he has sponsored along with current legislation on the House floor and why some issues are stalled. 

AAA Releases Weekend Gas Watch

The statewide gas price average in New Mexico is now $1.63 for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel, according to the AAA New Mexico Weekend Gas Watch. That price is seven cents less than last week and 44 cents less per gallon than last year. Of the major metropolitan areas surveyed in the Land of Enchantment, drivers in Las Cruces are paying the most on average at $1.63 per gallon while drivers in Albuquerque are paying the least at $1.53 per gallon. The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded has dropped to $1.70 which is seven cents less than last week and 51 cents less per gallon than last year.

Royce Pearson Talks About Eddy County Mid-Year Budget Review

“Fiscally, we’re in good shape,” says the County Commission Chairman (pictured). He says he has no concerns of county government going broke. 

Woods Houghton Podcast Returns

While the oil and gas industry is in a slump one part of the Eddy County economy is steady according to Eddy County Extension Agent Woods Houghton. He says agriculture adds millions of dollars to the economy.

ECSO To Get New Cars

The purchase of some vehicles from Artesia Ford for the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office is getting applause from Eddy County Commissioner Glen Collier(pictured).ECSO is getting eight new Ford Explorer SUV’s and they were purchased for around a quarter of a million dollars. Collier has the latest on Eddy County government happenings.

Marita Noon:“Keep It In The Ground” At Work In The Real World

Commentary by Marita Noon,Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great Inc. Going forward, we know what the new year of environmental activism looks like. They have told us. They have made it perfectly clear. They call it: “Keep it in the ground.” The campaign is about all fossil fuels: oil, gas, and coal. Instead of an “all of the above” energy policy, when it comes to fossil fuels, they want “none of the above.” A big part of the effort is focused on preventing the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands—which is supported by presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton. The recent moratorium of leasing federal lands for coal mining, announced by Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, is considered a great victory for “keep it in the ground.” I wrote about the movement in December. Last month, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion editorial for one of its leaders, Bill McKibben: “How to drive a stake through the heart of zombie fossil fuel.” In it, McKibben states: “In May, a coalition across six continents is being organized to engage in mass civil disobedience to ‘keep it in the ground.’” While big news items fuel the fight, smaller, symbolic wins are part of the strategy. Introducing the plan late last year, The Hill states: “It stretches into local fights, over small drilling wells, coal mines and infrastructure.” Here’s what keep it in the ground looks like in the real world—in “local fights” and “over small drilling wells.” In a suburb of Albuquerque known more for computer chip-making than crude oil extraction, the anti-fossil fuel crowd is doing everything they can to prevent a “small drilling well” from being developed. In Rio Rancho, New Mexico, the major employer is Intel. It is also home to several call centers—though the Sprint call center just announced it is closing and cutting 394 jobs. New Mexico has the nation’s highest jobless rate: 6.8%. Rio Rancho is in Sandoval County—which currently, in the northern part of the county, has 600 oil-and-gas wells on tribal or federal lands. According to the NM Tax Research Institute, in 2013, when oil prices were higher, Sandoval County producers shipped 1.08 million barrels of oil worth $86 million and 394.1 million MCF (one MCF = one thousand cubic feet) of natural gas worth $1.6 billion. After leasing the mineral rights last year, an Oklahoma company, SandRidge Energy Inc., is hoping to drill an exploratory well. The well, which has already received approval from the state Oil and Conversation Division (OCD), is “about four miles outside of the Rio Rancho city limits,” reports the Albuquerque Journal. It will be a vertical well, drilled to a depth of 10,500 feet—which is expected to take about 25 days. Until the well is drilled and logged, engineers will not know whether the resource will warrant development or, if it does, if it will require hydraulic fracturing. The OCD permit is to drill, complete, and produce the well. Jami Grindatto, president and CEO of the Sandoval Economic Alliance says the environmental footprint would be “small.” Several previous exploratory wells have been drilled in the Albuquerque Basin that were determined not to be economically viable—though oil was found. To begin drilling, SandRidge needs a zoning variance from the county. On December 10, the Planning and Zoning Committee held a contentious meeting to hear public comment on the SandRidge application. So many wanted to speak, there wasn’t time, nor space, to accommodate them. Another meeting, in a larger venue, was scheduled for January 28. There, dozens of people spewed generic talking points against fracking; speaking vaguely about pollution, earthquakes, and/or water contamination. The Committee, to no avail, asked presenters to stay on topic and address just this one well—this application. A few folks braved the hostile crowd and spoke in support of the project—only to be booed. It was in this atmosphere that the Committee recommended that the County Commissioners deny the request. Essentially, they threw up their hands and acknowledged that they weren’t equipped to deal with the intricacies of the application—which is why such decisions are better made at the state levels, where there are engineers and geologists who understand the process. The Sandoval County Commissioners may still approve the special use permit at the February 18 meeting—as they are the final decision makers. In December, Sandoval County Commissioner James Dominguez, District 1, said he “has some major concerns that the drilling could compromise the water supply and air quality in Rio Rancho.” KOAT News cites Dominguez as saying: “I know that eventually, in time, it will pollute our water sources”—this despite the definitive August 2015 EPA study released that confirmed hydraulic fracturing does not pollute the water supply. In the past few years, when oil prices were higher, Encana and WPX drilled some 200 wells in the same geology, 70 of them in Sandoval County. Not one single instance of any interference, damage, or invasion of fresh water aquifers has occurred. For that matter, over the past 50 years of production in Sandoval County, even with technology and safety standards that were not as advanced or rigorous as todays, there has not been one instance of aquifer harm. Perhaps the upcoming meeting will be an opportunity to provide more factual information to the political decision makers. (Readers are encouraged to send supportive comments to the commissioners and/or attend the February 18 meeting.) One “small drilling well” outside of a community on the edge of Albuquerque that could create jobs and help the local and state economy could be blocked because of a few dozen agitators who could cause the county to “keep it in the ground.” One day later, another small band from the anti-fossil-fuel movement also celebrated an almost insignificant victory that adds to the momentum. This one in California. On January 29, a settlement was reached in a lawsuit environmental groups filed two years against two federal agencies that they claim permitted offshore fracking and other forms of high-pressure well stimulation techniques: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The settlement requires public notice for any future offshore applications for fracking and acidification. Additionally, the agencies have agreed to provide what’s termed “a programmatic” environmental assessment of the potential impacts of such techniques on the coastal environment. To read the press releases from the environmental groups, one would think that these government agencies were in cahoots with ExxonMobil and that they were sneaking around, letting the oil companies run amok. In fact, the companies who’ve applied for drilling permits, have followed a very stringent application process—under which they were approved. However, once exploratory wells were drilled, they were found not to be good candidates for hydraulic fracturing. A consulting petroleum geologist, with more than 30 years’ experience—almost exclusively in California—explained it to me this way: “There’s not a lot of hydraulic fracturing going on offshore, because, similar to most of California, it simply isn’t effective. Most of the rocks are adequately fractured by Mother Nature. Generally speaking fracking is effective in a few places where it has been used without incident since the 1940s. It is not an issue.” The settlement requires “a programmatic” environmental assessment be completed by May 28—during which time “the agencies will withhold approval of drilling permits.” Sources I spoke with, told me that this, too, was not a big deal—which would explain why ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute agreed not to oppose the settlement. In the current low-priced oil environment companies are not clamoring for new drilling targets. It is believed that once the assessment is complete, the existing requirements will be found to be appropriate and permitting can move forward. Additionally, offshore rigs are currently shutdown in the region—an overreaction to a pipeline break last spring. So, if this “settlement” is much ado about nothing, why even bring it up? Because, it is an example of those “local fights;” the little “wins” that motive the “keep it in the ground” movement and encourage them for the bigger fights—like hydraulic fracturing in the deep water Gulf of Mexico. These two stories are likely just a sampling of the battles being played out in county commissions and government agencies throughout America. As in these cases, a small handful of activists are shaping policy that affects all of us and impacts the economics of our communities by, potentially, cutting funding for education and public services. “Keep it in the ground” is the new face of environmental activism. If those who understand the role energy plays in America and our freedoms don’t engage, don’t attend meetings and send statements, and don’t vote, the policy makers have almost no choice but to think these vocal few represent the many.

Artesia School Board Meets

The current Artesia Public Schools’ Administration Building could be seeing its occupants move. The Artesia School Board has allowed the district to issue a Request for Proposal for a new HQ. 

Artesia Native Remembered By Museum Head

The Executive Director of the New Mexico Space Museum is offering some thoughts on the passing last week of Astronaut Edgar Mitchell. He passed away last week in Florida and Chris Orwoll has fond memories of an event Mitchell attended a few years ago in Kansas. Mitchell was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in 1979. The museum is located in Alamogordo.

Paul Gessing Podcast Returns

This week the Director of the Rio Grande Foundation think tank offers some thoughts on the 2016 NM Legislative Session. 

Baseball Season Is Here

It is for the NMMI Broncos. Head Coach Chris Cook explains why the team is playing the first three weeks of the season in Artesia and Hobbs. 

Young Golfers Hope To Swing Their Way To Nationals

Karen Boehler NMMI Sports Press. Five freshmen will be taking to the links for the Bronco golf team this season, but while that means youth, it doesn’t necessarily mean inexperience. “My guys are solid,” said NMMI coach Skip Gooch. “They can get better and I’m sure as the season progresses they will do that. They’ll all improve.” Four of the five played during the fall season, and while the Broncos weren’t at the top of the leader boards in any tournaments, they steadily improved, and Gooch thinks his squad can be in the mix when it comes time to qualify for the NJCAA national tournament. “It’ll be a long shot, and we’ll really have to perform, when it comes time to perform, but we have a shot at going to the national championship,” he said. “It’s slim, but we’re going to scrap for it. We’ll be scratching and try to make it, so we’ll see what happens.” While the team members are constantly battling for position, Jin Ho Choi, “Peter” to his teammates, should fill the No. 1 position. “He’s salty. He’s a scratch golfer pretty easy,” Gooch said. During a qualifying practice on a frigid, windy afternoon, Choi, who comes from South Korea but grew up in South Africa, shot one over in what Gooch called “miserable conditions.” Playing No. 2 is one of the three New Mexicans on the squad. Paul Montoya hails from Rio Rancho, where he golfed for Cleveland High School. “He’s performing very well,” Gooch said of this semester’s team captain. “He’s stepped up to that responsibility, and so far it hasn’t affected his game. He’s doing very well. He’s solid. He will shoot that same one under, even par, one over almost every round.” No. 3 is Albuquerque golfer Lucas Bohannon, who played for La Cueva. “He again is solid,” the coach said. “Lucas can come unhinged a few times, but hopefully he doesn’t do it in the middle of a tournament. We’ll do it in practice. But he can play well.” Filling the No. 4 slot is the spring newcomer, Arturo Quintero, from Venezuela. “He’s showing some solid work, right now,” the coach said. “He hasn’t gotten to play in a while, and of course the weather here has rocked us back. He’s just now getting his wheels rolling and catching up, but he’s showing some good potential for me.” Rounding out the squad is Alamogordo golfer Edward Schlensig. “He’s steady,” Gooch said. “He struggles, but whenever it comes time to perform, he’ll shoot in the low 70s. So he’s a good backup. If somebody blows up, then Edward’s always there to cover the bases.” At most tournaments, five golfers compete with the top four scores counting. So the players are constantly battling to move up, and that, Gooch said, offers motivation to improve. So does the possibility of making it to nationals. To qualify for the Florida championship, the Broncos have to finish in fifth or better in one of two late-season qualifying tournaments, which Gooch thinks they can do. “By the time we roll around to that, the guys will have their wheels rolling and we’ll be in good shape. I’ve got high hopes right now. “That’s kind of the motivation I’ve been feeding them. I don’t expect them to play perfect golf, but as a team, if they will qualify well, as a team we’ll score in that top four or five area and be able to move on.” Before the qualifying tourneys, the Broncos will compete in tourneys in Texas, Hobbs and at home. Gooch calls the NMMI Invitational “fun, “ but also grueling. “It’s a hell on wheels tournament, because we start at seven in the morning, and they go 36 holes straight, and it’s usually getting close to dark by the time they finish,” he said. “Hopefully the physical fitness part of the NMMI guys will help. It’s a grinder. It’s a real grinder.” But with a mix of D1, D2, NAIA and junior colleges, the coach said it’s also great to watch. “I invite all the people in Roswell (to come out.) If they want to see good quality college golf, come to the NMMI Invite. It’s the last weekend in February. Come out as spectators and they’ll see some good quality golf. It’ll be impressive.”

City Of Carlsbad, Guadalupe Mountains National Park To Co-Host Grand Opening Of Convenience Station

A demonstration of the City of Carlsbad’s on-site glass pulverizer will spotlight the grand opening and ribbon cutting of the new Solid Waste Convenience Drop Off Center. The event will begin at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 17, at the drop off center located at 302 East Plaza Street. Guadalupe Mountains National Park located their new pulverizer at the Drop Off Center to assist with local glass recycling efforts. The pulverizer grinds up glass and turns it into sand, which can be used in playgrounds, utility bedding, and concrete mix projects. The City’s new and improved Solid Waste Convenience Drop Off Center opened on Jan. 4. In addition to plastics recycling and glass recycling, it features seven drop off stations, including a station dedicated to tree limbs and one for scrap metal. “As the name says, the new drop off center is designed to be convenient for our residents,” said Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway. “We’re also really excited about the glass pulverizer, and we can’t say enough to thank Guadalupe Mountains National Park for helping us keep Carlsbad beautiful by helping with glass recycling.” In 2008 Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and the City of Carlsbad first met to discuss how we could get a glass pulverizer and station it in Carlsbad. “We used the little known Intergovernmental Cooperation Act to team up and make this drop off center a reality,” said Guadalupe Mountains Superintendent Eric Brunnemann. “Here we are on the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, leading the way for the whole nation to see how recycling works for everyone.” City and National Park Service officials will be making a short presentation during the Feb. 17 celebration. A group of students from Carlsbad’s Jefferson Montessori Academy are expected to attend, and all members of the public are invited. To help make the event educational and fun, a demonstration of the glass pulverizer, the City’s grappler truck and other activities are planned. Light refreshments will be served.