Comments sought on SunZia transmission project

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is accepting comments on proposed amendments to the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project that will move electricity from New Mexico across Arizona and into California. The BLM released a 525-page draft Environmental Impact Statement and draft Resource Management Plan amendment on Friday. This came after SunZia requested an amendment to their existing right of ways last year. The new right of ways could incorporate parts of Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge and Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands. A 90-day public comment period opened this week and will include three public comment sessions hosted using the Zoom web platform.

BLM extends comment period for Chaco mineral withdrawal

The Bureau of Land Management announced an extension to the comment period for withdrawal of federal lands around Chaco Culture National Historical Park from mineral leasing. The comment period, initially scheduled to close April 6, will now end on May 6. Additionally, the BLM has scheduled two meetings that will allow people to provide oral comments. These meetings will be from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 at San Juan College in Farmington and from 8 a.m. to noon Friday, April 29 at the National Indian Programs Training Center in Albuquerque. Related: BLM director: Comments on Chaco buffer are ‘just the beginning of the process’

The new meetings come following a request by Jerome Lucero, the former governor of Zia Pueblo and the current vice chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, during a February meeting.

Upcoming short film highlights importance of Chaco

Archaeology Southwest plans to release a short film later this month to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the Greater Chaco landscape. This video comes as the federal Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comments regarding the withdrawal of federal lands around Chaco Culture National Historical Park from the mineral leasing program. The comment deadline is April 6 and Paul Reed, an archaeologist, said the short six-minute film will be released prior to that date. “We wanted to put together a film that would highlight Native leaders talking about why that’s important to do and really kind of emphasize that point of view,” Reed said. The proposal to withdraw the lands from mineral leasing has met backlash from energy companies as well as Navajo allottees who say, although their allotments are not included in the withdrawal, shutting off neighboring lands from mineral development makes it so they cannot lease out their own mineral rights in the future.

BLM director: Comments on Chaco buffer are ‘just the beginning of the process’

When it comes to protecting the Greater Chaco region, the answers are not always simple, as demonstrated by the ongoing public comment period regarding withdrawing federal lands around Chaco Culture National Historical Park from mineral leasing for two decades. The oil-rich section of the San Juan Basin has been at the center of debate as Indigenous and environmental groups push for increased protection of the sacred landscape, including an end to new leases that lead to increased emissions, pollution of land and water, and oil-field traffic impacting surrounding communities. But, while the withdrawal does not affect allottee mineral rights, some of the Navajo allottees who live in the proposed buffer zone say withdrawing the lands means cutting off their access to one of the few sources of economic opportunity in the remote area. This process began in November with a secretarial order from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Public comments must be submitted by April 6. 

Leading up to that deadline, the Bureau of Land Management hosted meetings on Wednesday in Farmington to provide information to the public about the process.

Forest Service seeks to protect caves in Eddy County from mineral extraction

Mining and extractive industries were banned on more than 27,000 acres of land around a fragile cave system in Eddy County for two decades, but that protection expired last year. Now the U.S. Forest Service is asking the U.S. Department of the Interior to once again remove the national forest lands in the Guadalupe Caves Resource Protection Area from federal leasing for another 20 years. The cave system is in an area known as the Guadalupe Escarpment, located between Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is in Texas. 

Following the application filed in December by the Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management filed a notice Monday in the Federal Register officially kicking off the public comment period. Comments will be accepted through April 25. The BLM and Forest Service will host a virtual public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Feb.

BLM hosts roundtable discussion about federal funding for orphaned wells

Randy Pacheco, the chief executive officer of the San Juan Basin-based A-Plus Well Service, said the state’s workforce needs to be built up to address the orphaned oil and natural gas wells that dot the landscape in many states including New Mexico. 

Pacheco was one of the panelists who participated in a roundtable-style webinar discussion about the federal orphaned well program and the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to implement it. The bureau hosted the webinar, which drew hundreds of people, on Thursday. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law in November provided $4.7 billion for clean-up, remediation and restoration at orphaned well sites. That led to the U.S. Department of the Interior releasing initial guidelines on Dec. 17 for states to apply for funding.

Push continues to prevent gravel mining on 4,200 acre area in Sandoval County

The four Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation are pushing to have 4,200 acres of Bureau of Land Management land removed from mineral development, in particular gravel mining, in Sandoval County near Placitas. U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury introduced the Buffalo Tract Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández and is also supported by two congressmen from California. On the Senate side, New Mexico’s senators, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, have co-sponsored the bill. The Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, which are included in the bill, are popular recreation areas and ancestral lands of the Pueblo of Santa Ana and the Pueblo of San Felipe.

BLM lease sale seeks to expand geothermal energy in New Mexico

As part of an effort to increase renewable energy, the Bureau of Land Management will hold a virtual geothermal lease sale this fall for three parcels totaling nearly 4,000 acres. These parcels are located in Hidalgo and Sierra counties in southwest New Mexico. This comes after President Joe Biden issued an executive order to increase renewable and clean energy sources. Additionally, the Energy Act of 2020 directed the BLM to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal on public lands no later than 2025. According to the BLM, as of May there were 36 wind projects and 37 solar projects on federal lands across the United States.

BLM releases draft environmental assessment for potash mine clay settlement facility

The federal Bureau of Land Management has released a draft environmental assessment regarding Mosaic Potash Carlsbad’s plans to use a nearly 1,000 acre natural playa as a clay settlement facility. The playa, known as Laguna Uno, has previously been used by the mine and, if approved, the mining company will use it as a secondary clay settling pond to reduce the amount of clay in the water that is discharged into an area known as Laguna Grande. A 30-day comment period began Monday on the draft environmental assessment and will remain open through July 23. The draft environmental assessment’s proposed action would allow Mosaic to use Laguno Uno as an additional clay settling pond. BLM considered other locations as well as the no action alternative, which would result in the application being denied.

Recent storms have brought moisture, but fire danger remains

Recent rain and snow in parts of New Mexico have brought a temporary reprieve from the high fire dangers, but officials warn that the vegetation can dry out quickly and that precautions should be taken to prevent and prepare for wildfire. “My biggest concern and concern from fire management is that people may become complacent because we have had a little bit of rain,” Teresa Rigby, a fire education and mitigation specialist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told NM Political Report. She said New Mexico is in fire season and that will continue through June and possibly into July. “It really doesn’t take that much for things to turn around and where it was wet one day the next day it can burn,” she said. Fire restrictions reevaluated in some national forests

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which releases a map every Thursday showing current drought conditions, shows slight improvements in drought in New Mexico this week compared to the previous week.