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.

Feds move forward with New Mexico drilling plan despite community outcry

For nine years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has wrangled through an update to oil and gas permitting procedures for the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico. The update was sparked by decades old changes in drilling technology already used in an area that gained notoriety for having one of the largest methane hot spots on the planet — because of leaking oil and gas wells. In February 2020, BLM and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs together released a set of four update possibilities. All four have been roundly panned by government agencies, environmental groups, tribal governments, Native American organizations and the public at large. Even so, the two agencies will announce which option they’ve chosen as their final plan next month.

BLM boss still on the job despite judge’s ruling

ALBUQUERQUE — The Bureau of Land Management says it will challenge a judge’s ruling that ousted William Perry Pendley as director of the agency last week. In the meantime, Pendley is still at the agency, and influencing BLM policies. For the past few years, the Trump administration has avoided confirmation hearings by putting acting officials in charge of top agencies and departments. The judge found Pendley had been on the job illegally for more than 400 days without a Senate confirmation. Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project, said the administration has used shortcuts to advance controversial policies.

BIA: Navajo members can ‘work around’ connectivity issues to participate in online forum on oil and gas development

Representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) told participants of a virtual meeting Wednesday that they can “work around” connectivity issues to participate in information sessions about proposed amendments to the BLM’s Resource Management Plan for the Farmington field office. 

The comments came after Navajo Nation Council Delegate Daniel Tso called for the BLM to “immediately and indefinitely suspend” the amendment process, in a letter that was read aloud by Mario Atencio during the online meeting. Tso represents the northwest New Mexico Navajo Chapters Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon and Whitehorse Lake. “The Navajo Nation is still in the midst of an extreme public health emergency caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Tso’s letter stated, adding that for a period of time, the Navajo Nation was experiencing an infection rate that was “among the highest in the world per capita.”

“The expectation for the Navajo Nation to engage in ‘meaningful consultation’ regarding the amendment of a resource management plan while the Navajo Nation has been singularly focused on fighting the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic is extremely burdensome to the Navajo Nation,” the letter stated. 

RELATED: Planting hope amid a plague

The BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) was initially released in late February about a week before New Mexico recorded its first cases of COVID-19. The 400-plus page draft amendment outlines a preferred alternative that would increase oil and gas activity in the Greater Chaco region. 

Tribal governments, environmental groups and members of the state’s Congressional delegation all subsequently called for the U.S. Department of the Interior to extend or halt the process until after the pandemic. 

RELATED: BLM will move forward on Greater Chaco drilling proposal while communities grapple with COVID-19 surge

BLM decided in early May to extend the deadline for submitting public comments by 120 days.That period ends September 25. But all of the public outreach and information sessions have since been conducted online. 

Sixty percent of Navajo Nation residents currently lack access to broadband, according to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

BLM grapples with public participation amid coronavirus pandemic, while some call for lease sales to be postponed

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management scrambled this week to make temporary changes to its lease sale rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while some groups have called for the BLM to halt lease auctions all together until oil prices have rebounded. The BLM opened a 10-day protest period March 23 for a lease sale of 45,446 acres of public land in New Mexico that’s scheduled for May of 2020. The protest period is the third and final public comment opportunity in the BLM’s lease sale process. While the department is able to accept public comments electronically during the scoping process and after the release of the draft environmental assessment (EA) for a lease sale, BLM typically requires protests to be either hand-delivered or sent by certified mail to the BLM state office in Santa Fe. On Monday, the first day of the protest period, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order for the state, which instructed residents to only leave the house for essential outings.