Published Sunday, July 17, 2016
By Joelle Marier, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
The recent request by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) for the BLM to reverse its decision to postpone leasing of three oil and gas parcels in the greater Chaco area that were slated for an October lease sale demonstrates just how eager the oil and gas industry is to get its hands on our public lands.
The Farmington BLM office is in the process of amending its 2003 Resource Management Plan to address leasing in the Mancos/Gallup Formation – an area that was previously believed to be fully developed but which has garnered renewed interest from extractive industry.
To effectively assess the impacts of allowing further development, it is imperative that the BLM consider not only how they will mitigate impacts, but also where development is appropriate and, more importantly, where it is not.
Leasing lands to industry before the assessment phase is complete would be irresponsible land management.
Conservation groups have been working for years to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape – a large archeological area radiating outward from Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
A crucial step towards protecting Chaco is ensuring that no additional land near the park is leased for development, at least until a planning decision is finalized by BLM about where leasing is appropriate.
In an article from the Farmington Daily News last week, CEA argued that postponing this lease sale will cost New Mexico “millions in private investment, and new – greatly needed – tax revenue.” This is pure speculation.
A recent study on development of oil and gas leases found that only 10% of all leases – including those with high, medium, low, and no potential – are actually developed. Although this percentage is a bit higher within the Farmington Field Office, a large number of currently leased lands in northwestern New Mexico sit undeveloped, making the urgent need to put more lands up for lease, as proposed by CEA, a bit questionable.
If, in the end, the three lease parcels are put up for auction and leased, there is a likelihood that these leases will not be developed, and consequently, will incur administrative costs to taxpayers in exchange for minimal revenue. Leasing may also prevent these lands from being managed to protect other important resources.
The BLM is mandated by its organic act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), to manage public BLM lands for multiple use. BLM policy states that economic benefits cannot be used as the primary reason to develop our public lands.
This is an important directive because it confirms that our public lands have values beyond their ability to generate revenue. It is the responsibility of the BLM to ensure public lands are managed in a balanced way that continues to provide for the interests of ALL Americans for generations to come – not just those of extractive industry.
While certain lands may be well-suited for development, others are not. When the BLM is doing its job well, recreation, cultural resources, wildlife, scientific values, ecological resources, and other values are on a level playing field with extractable resources.
Unfortunately, in BLM offices with high levels of extractable resources, this has not always been the case.
Lands managed by the Farmington BLM Field Office are over 90% leased to the oil and gas industry.
It’s time for the agency to more seriously consider the other resources provided by the lands it manages. The Chaco area is not only rich in archeology and cultural history, it also holds value in significant paleontological sites, trophy mule deer habitat, and beautifully surreal landscapes.
The Greater Chaco Landscape and its many resources have already seen significant impact from industrial development. Some things are more important than revenue. The BLM’s decision to postpone leasing in the area surrounding Chaco is reasonable, prudent, and not a real burden on the industry. It is also good land management.