The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to move forward with a public engagement process for plans to expand drilling in the Greater Chaco region, even as the communities in northwestern New Mexico, who are currently struggling with a surge in COVID-19 cases, have repeatedly requested an extension to the process.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the BLM released a draft amendment to the Farmington field office resource management plan (RMP) and environmental impact statement in late February, kicking off a public comment period that ends on May 28. The 400-plus page draft amendment outlines a preferred alternative that would increase oil and gas activity in the Greater Chaco region.
As the COVID-19 outbreak has spread across the state, local community groups in the Greater Chaco region requested the BLM extend the public comment period during the public health emergency. That call was echoed by the state government, the congressional delegation, and tribal leaders. All told, three separate letters were sent to the Department of Interior requesting the comment be extended. As of Friday, none have received a response, according to officials.
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Meanwhile, populations in the northwest corner of the state, including communities on the Navajo Nation and other tribal lands, have been pummeled by COVID-19.
Amid a Permian Basin oil and gas boom, conservation advocates worry the current levels of industry activity occurring on federally-managed lands in southeast New Mexico are unsustainable, damaging to the land, reducing habitat for wildlife and further stressing populations of fauna that are struggling against a changing climate. A 2018 policy change drastically increased the frequency of oil and gas lease sales in the state, propelling the Carlsbad Field Office, which oversees management of BLM land in portions of the Permian Basin, to become one of the busiest BLM field offices in the country. The Carlsbad office is also in the midst of a resource management program (RMP) revision that began in 2010, updating the 1988 RMP that outlines, among other things, where oil and gas leases can be sold. Conservation groups such as the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance have nominated several areas for federal protection against oil and gas development. And the state’s Game and Fish Department has identified a number of important wildlife migration corridors in the Permian Basin for protections from oil and gas activity.
The U.S. has oscillated from being the largest economy to participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change to becoming one of the world’s strongest voices promoting the continued burning of coal and other fossil fuels. New Mexico has had a front row seat to that change, of course. In 2019, the Permian Basin became the world’s most productive oilfield, and New Mexico has emerged as a top oil-producing state.
Oil and gas expansion across New Mexico and Texas will be a chief driver of future greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to a recent report compiled by 15 global environmental groups that was released ahead of the U.N. climate-focused COP25 conference held in Madrid this year.
“Right now, the Permian Basin is the biggest projected driver of oil and gas expansion — not just in the U.S. but in the world,” said Kelly Trout, senior research analyst at Oil Change International, a research and advocacy group. Trout was a contributor to the report.
“Our data shows that the potential year of peak production for the Permian Basin in 2032,” Trout said. “The Permian Basin itself could produce more oil and natural gas liquids than Saudi Arabia [at that time].”
U.S. outpaces all other countries in planned oil and gas expansion
The U.S. is poised to outpace every other country in the world in new oil and gas development, according to the report.
Wednesday, a U.S. district court judge in California slapped down the U.S. Department of the Interior’s attempts to roll back its own rule aimed at cutting the waste of natural gas, or methane, from wells and pipelines on federal and tribal lands. The Bureau of Land Management’s waste prevention rule limits routine flaring of natural gas from oil wells, calls for industry to modernize leak-detection technology and fix leaks that are found and prohibits venting natural gas directly into the atmosphere, except under certain circumstances. Flaring and venting are in some cases unavoidable, such as when new wells are being drilled or for safety purposes, and have been regulated since the late 1970s. With the new rule, BLM sought to tighten the waste of natural gas and also address greenhouse gas pollution. After Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suspended the rule, conservation groups sued.
With all the big oil and gas news over the last few weeks, it might be hard to keep track of the different rules, agencies, court rulings and studies—and what they mean for New Mexico. Last week, U.S. District Judge James “Jeb” Boasberg ruled that the federal government’s environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline was insufficient. The ruling came after the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes sued the federal government, arguing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t complied with the National Environmental Policy Act when it greenlighted plans to build the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River. In his opinion, Boasberg wrote that the court agrees that the federal government didn’t adequately consider how an oil spill would affect fishing rights, hunting rights or environmental justice issues. It’s not clear, however, if the company must cease operations while the Corps of Engineers reconsiders certain sections of its environmental analysis.
BLANCO, N.M. – Most evenings, the quiet is almost intoxicating. The whoosh of the wind through the junipers, the whinny of horses in their stalls, the raspy squawking of ravens – those are the sounds Don and Jane Schreiber have grown to love on their remote Devil’s Spring Ranch. The views are mesmerizing, too. Long, lonesome ridges of khaki-colored rocks, dome-like outcrops and distant mesas rise from a sea of sage and rabbitbrush. The ranch and surrounding countryside are a surprising setting for an enduring climate change problem: a huge cloud of methane – a potent, heat-trapping gas – that is 10 times larger than the city of Chicago.
U.S. Senators voted against overturning a rule aimed at cutting methane waste from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands Wednesday morning. The surprise defeat of the effort was on a 49-51 vote, with Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voting along with Democrats to keep the rule. Note: This is a developing story and we will update as new information comes to light and members of New Mexico’s delegation react. As we reported yesterday, both of New Mexico’s senators oppose overturning the rule. Both Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are Democrats.
After reviewing hundreds of pages of protests, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said the agency is almost set to release a payment of nearly $70 million dollars for oil and gas leases to the state of New Mexico. The spokeswoman, Donna Hummel, told NM Political Report Thursday afternoon that an oil and gas internal review process is complete and New Mexico could see the money in a few months. “We feel confident that the state will have its lease payment of about $70 million by June 1,” Hummel said. Hummel added the dollar amount New Mexico receives could change, though it’s unlikely. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, and the Democratic members of the delegation sent letters to the BLM urging the agency to release funds owed to the state.
When speaking to a congressional committee more than two decades ago about a bill that would have made sweeping changes to the federal Endangered Species Act, Kathleen Benedetto said the landmark 1973 law was flawed for not taking “into consideration that extinctions are part of that natural process.”
“If you look at the geological record, you can see throughout time that extinctions occurred,” Benedetto said in the 1995 House Committee on Natural Resources hearing. “We’re all aware that the dinosaurs were here for millions of years, and they’re not here any longer, and they disappeared long before man ever emerged as a species.”
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Benedetto co-founded the Women’s Mining Coalition and spoke on behalf of Grassroots ESA Coalition, an anti-regulation group aligned with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Now, Benedetto is one of the new special assistants to Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. She’s reportedly in the Bureau of Land Management after working on Donald Trump’s transition team and as a Republican legislative staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee. As a GS-15 employee she’ll be earning between $101,630-$132,122 per year.
David Robbins lives 200 paces from a rectangular yellow sign that informs drivers passing through Alto in southeast New Mexico of the presence of wild horses. He says people stop to take pictures of the animals, which he says don’t pose a threat to the community. Some Alto residents disagree and say they need a legal means to get rid of the horses. Under proposed legislation, Senate Bill 126, the state Livestock Board would have the authority to remove wild or abandoned horses from private property and sell them at auction if unclaimed. The bill highlights a debate that has echoed in the West in recent years.