A new study by an independent research organization says that proposed energy development by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Otero Mesa would provide few economic benefits to Otero County, and that preserving this wild grassland would be a wiser investment for local communities.
The Headwaters Economics study shows that the limited economic benefits of drilling won’t even cover the county’s share of infrastructure and services costs related to drilling, with even the most favorable projections peaking at just over 1 percent of Otero County’s revenue from 2007 and making even less of a contribution for most years. And, the number of new jobs created would be small, only about 1 percent of all county employment over four years.
Other economic sectors could be harmed, too, such as the travel and tourism industries, which account for about 6 percent of Otero County’s current employment.
The report concludes that drilling Otero Mesa would create few economic and fiscal benefits, while potentially foreclosing future economic opportunities.
Advocates for protection of Otero Mesa’s natural attributes said the study provides a powerful economic argument for safeguarding the area. “This report confirms that Otero Mesa is worth more alive than dead,” said Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces. “The choice is clear. If we drill, we risk destroying this special area and get little in return. Congress needs to act to protect this national treasure now.”
“Oil and gas drilling in Otero Mesa will not have any significant benefits for the local economy, and in fact, it would be much wiser to preserve this wild and beautiful grassland.” said Nada Culver of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center.
In 2005, the BLM opened more than 90 percent of federal lands in the 1.2 million acre greater Otero Mesa ecosystem to oil and gas development, but so far development has been limited. A growing number of organizations have joined conservationists and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in calling for permanent protection of Otero Mesa to protect its wildlife, water, wilderness qualities, cultural and historic sites. Resolutions of support have been generated by the City of El Paso, County of El Paso, City of Las Cruces, Isleta del Sur Pueblo, NM Archaeological Council, the Catholic Bishops of Las Cruces and El Paso, and hundreds of businesses and individuals in southern New Mexico.
“This report reiterates what we’ve been saying all along: Neither Otero County nor New Mexicans who come here to experience this unique landscape have much to gain from drilling Otero Mesa,” said Nathan Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “The diverse coalition working to protect Otero Mesa just shows how important it is to so many New Mexicans and in so many ways.”
Otero Mesa is one of the largest remaining intact desert grasslands in North America, and home to a wide variety of grassland-dependent wildlife, including a unique desert-adapted lineage of pronghorn, prairie dogs, kit foxes, and many grassland bird species, including many that are declining elsewhere. It also contains numerous Native American sacred and cultural sites, and a Butterfield stagecoach station. And it sits atop the largely untapped Salt Basin aquifer, which contains an estimated 57 million acre feet of water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The report is the eighth in Headwaters Economics’ Energy and the West series, which outlines the impacts of energy development in several Western states and counties. The full report can be found online at www.headwaterseconomics.org.