Protesters call for drilling ban following federal land sales to oil and gas industry

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

A group of environmentalists are demanding the federal government cease leasing public land to the oil and gas industry, in the wake of $10 million sale announced this week.

The group was protesting the federal Bureau of Land Management’s September lease sale of about 3,000 acres of federal public land to the oil and gas industry in New Mexico, Kansas and Oklahoma.

About half of the $9.8 million raised in the sale will go back to the states, read a BLM news release.

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The rest will go to the U.S. Treasury.

The BLM offered leases on 15 parcels, totaling about 3,174 acres, in the sale.

The highest per-acre bid was sold to Cimarex Energy Company for $31,101, for 40 acres in Lea County.

Platform Energy III took the highest per parcel bid for about $3.2 million for 396 acres, also in Lea County.

More:Oil and gas industry predicts billions in investments in New Mexico through 2030

Leases are for 10 years, and as long as the lease results in oil and gas production. 

"The BLM is a key contributor to the (President Donald) Trump Administration's America First Energy Plan, which is an all-of-the-above plan that includes oil and gas, coal, strategic minerals, and renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, and solar, all of which can be developed on public lands," read the release. 

Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner for WildEarth Guardians warned that ongoing leasing and fossil fuel development in the booming Permian Basin was leading to increased pollution and global warming.

More:Does fracking cause earthquakes? Studies show link to oil and gas waste water wells

“Full exploitation of the Permian Basin could fuel one degree of warming alone,” she said. “Any meaningful climate action must address the reckless sacrifice of our federal public lands for oil and gas interests, which puts our lands, water, and climate at risk.”

The environmentalists gathered Thursday at the BLM’s New Mexico State Office in Santa Fe to protest the sale, criticizing the BLM for “sacrificing” public land for oil and gas production across the American West.

In June, the group challenged a BLM decision to auction leases on 40,000 acres of public and tribal land in New Mexico in the Greater Chaco Landscape in the northwest corner of the state.

More:Oil and gas industry, environmentalists debate federal, state methane laws

“Youth are literally running for their lives, today,” said Eileen Shendo of Jemez Pueblo. “In the face of a growing climate crisis and yet another BLM oil and gas lease sale in the Greater Chaco Landscape, we are running to include the voices of youth and compel action for our collective future.”

Taylor McKinnon, senior public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity said the BLM must place a ban on new oil and gas permits while the impact is studied.

“The Bureau of Land Management needs to stop acting like a regulatory service of the fracking industry. They've turned an entire region into a sacrifice zone,” McKinnon said. “A total ban on new oil and gas approvals is long overdue."

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A previous decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Mexico held that the BLM failed to consider the impacts on the local environment and culture in approving drilling permits in the Chaco region.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt approved a one-year moratorium on drilling permits in the area.

None of the leases offered in the Sept. 5 sale were in the northwest region of New Mexico or in the Greater Chaco Landscape.

More:Oil companies grow Permian Basin New Mexico presence as prices dip amid global conflicts

But Miya King-Flahery, organizer with the Sierra Club Rio Grand Chapter, worried that southeast New Mexico was also being “exploited” by the oil and gas industry without adequate consideration for oil and develops’ impact on the region.

“Continued oil and gas drilling throughout the Greater Chaco and Greater Carlsbad landscape has already caused irreparable harm to our environment, air and water quality, and public health,” she said. “New Mexico cannot escape from the climate crisis or its impacts unless we take action today.

“Until we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and make the necessary changes now, we will experience harsher drought seasons and more extreme climate fluctuations. New Mexico and our future generations deserve better.”  

More:Oil and gas methane waste debated at Carlsbad public hearing, State prepares tougher rules

Environmentalists planned a demonstration on Sept. 20 in Robinson Park in Albuquerque, part of the “Global Climate Strike” that will see activists calling for action on climate change across the country, three days before United Nations’ Climate Summit in New York City.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.