Protests mount against U.S. Bureau of Land Management's land sale to oil and gas industry

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Environmentalists protested a lease sale of federal public land to the oil and gas industry in New Mexico and Oklahoma.

The Bureau of Land Management sold about 17,024 acres of federal land to oil and gas operators in its Feb. 6 sale, on 68 parcels in New Mexico and Oklahoma.

The sale raised about $20.4 million, with the highest per-acre bid going to Federal Abstract Company at $31,680 per acre for about 321 acres in Eddy County.

That parcel also received the highest total bid for about $10.2 million.

One parcel in Cheyenne County, Kansas did not receive a bid, along with another in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma, read a BLM news release.

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About half of the revenue raised from the sale will go to the states where leases were sold, read the release, with the rest entered in the U.S. Treasury.

Leases were for 10 years, or for as long as oil and gas is produced on the leased land.

Royalties from leases resulting in the production of oil or gas are also shared with the state.

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“The BLM’s policy is to promote oil and gas development if it meets the guidelines and regulations set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and other subsequent laws and policies passed by the U.S. Congress,” read a statement from the BLM.

“The sales are also in keeping with the 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.”

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Groups criticize sale to oil and gas industry

New Mexico Environmentalist groups questioned the sale as threatening public health via continued fossil fuel extraction, while also costing tax payers millions of dollars due to “outdated” lease policies.

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The groups contended, via a joint news release, that low royalty rates cost New Mexico up to $5 billion in lost revenue over the last decade.

Carlsbad resident Denton McCullough said the BLM’s leasing of public land to the industry threatened his community, and the BLM ignored public outcry against the continued sales.

“We all have an ethical and moral responsibility to care for our land, water and air, which are sacred gifts,” he said.

“The BLM has a particular public responsibility to manage public lands for future generations and address pollution from the oil and gas industries. By pushing forward with the February lease sale, it is ignoring public input and failing in its obligations.”

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Smog created by ozone led to about 9,000 lost school days for New Mexico children, the release read, with more than 12,000 childhood asthma attacks reported annually.

Emily Wolf, New Mexico program coordinator with the National Parks Conservation Association said the ongoing expansion of oil and gas operations in the state – especially in southeast New Mexico where production boomed in the Permian Basin – could threaten New Mexico’s national parks.

“Issuing these oil and gas leases would damage Carlsbad Caverns National Park's unique and stunning geologic qualities, and more drilling would further degrade air quality in the park, which can affect the health of the hundreds of thousands of people that visit each year,” she said.

“The rampant leasing of public lands to private industry, combined with the administration’s gutting of environmental protections and public participation, is causing irreparable damage to the cultural, geological and ecological values of New Mexico's national parks.”

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Executive Director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation Jesse Duebel said the environment should be protected from oil and gas development to ensure the land stays healthy.

He also questioned if the industry was truly paying a “fair price” for the lands.

“Public lands in New Mexico provide essential habitat for our wildlife and help sustain an exceptional quality of life for all New Mexicans, which is why the break neck development of our lands at rock bottom prices is so concerning,” Duebel said. “We need to slow down, make sure we are getting a fair price for our resources, and make sure we're leaving behind an outdoor heritage worthy of future generations.” 

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Andrew Black, public lands field director at the National Wildlife Federation said leasing public lands to the oil and gas industry was a national problem both for the short-term economy and the long-term damage on the environment.

“The February oil and gas lease sale in New Mexico is the latest example of how the administration’s energy dominance agenda is a lose-lose proposition. In the short term, this policy short-changes taxpayers by giving away our natural resources at rock bottom prices and locking up our public lands for the exclusive use of the oil and gas industry,” he said.

“In the long term, this headlong rush to endlessly extract oil and gas from public lands is unsustainable and will have devastating consequences for our state’s incredible landscapes, abundant wildlife and the burgeoning outdoor recreation economy.”

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