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BLM Steamrolls Public on Otero Mesa

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, September 29, 2005

JOINT RELEASE
The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance * Southwest Environmental Center *
New Mexico Wildlife Federation * National Wildlife Federation *
Natural Resources Defense Council * The Wilderness Society *
Forest Guardians * Sierra Club * Environmental Working Group


ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) next month will release 250,000-acres for oil and gas development in the heart of New Mexico's Otero Mesa — despite strong local opposition from the governor, the attorney general, a U.S. senator, ranchers, hunters, conservationists and thousands of other New Mexicans.

View a Map
of Otero Mesa

(hi-res)

The Oct. 1 release comes before the U.S. Geological Survey has had a chance to complete a high-quality assessment, requested by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, of the massive fresh water aquifer beneath Otero Mesa. The prospect of oil and gas drilling, and the damage it might cause, makes it particularly important to assess the "untapped resource" of the Salt Aquifer, Bingaman said.

"Protecting the aquifer requires thoroughly studying its makeup and how water moves through the system," Bingaman wrote USGS Acting Director P. Patrick Leahy. "In an arid state like New Mexico, we simply cannot take chances with a water supply as valuable as the Salt Aquifer."

A map produced by Environmental Working Group, available at http://www.ewg.org/issues/publiclands/20050929/map.php, shows the location of the acres that will be opened up for oil and gas drilling in Otero Mesa; highlighting the location and wide distribution of both the suspended leases and BLM's nominated lease parcels. When viewed in combination, the close to 82,000- acres of suspended and the 250,000-acres of nominated proposed leases in Otero Mesa equals 518 square miles, or more than twice the size of Albuquerque. The fact that BLM is proceeding with the unsuspended leases and has yet to produce any detailed leasing strategy for the nominated parcels demonstrates that BLM is focusing on aggressively developing Otero Mesa, rather than taking the prudent course and examining the environmental impacts to New Mexico's water and wildlife.

"This recent decision by the BLM again calls into question their commitment to protecting Otero Mesa's untapped, fresh water aquifer, expansive desert grasslands and abundant wildlife," said Nathan Newcomer of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. "We simply cannot afford to have these invaluable resources gambled with."

"The locals are simply getting steamrolled," said Jeremy Vesbach, Executive Director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. "We're being left out in the cold on this one, while one company stands to reap all the benefits at the expense of our water, wildlife and land."

Despite strong local opposition, BLM's Otero and Sierra Counties Resource Management Plan, released in May 2004, opened 95 percent of this wild 1- million-acre grassland to full-scale oil and gas development. As a result, Gov. Bill Richardson, State Attorney General Patricia Madrid and conservation groups brought separate legal actions challenging BLM's management plan for oil and gas development of Otero Mesa. In addition, the Governor and conservation groups have separately protested BLM's proposed sale of an oil and gas lease on Otero Mesa.

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Leasing History: Roughly one-third of these acres are controlled by the Harvey E. Yates Company, which has given President Bush's party over $300,000 in the last three election cycles. For more information on this topic please visit: (http://www.ewg.org/issues/publiclands/20050721/index.php).


Contacts:
Nathan Newcomer, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance: 505-843-8696, x107
Nada Culver, the Wilderness Society: 303-650-5818, x117
Jeremy Vesbach, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, 505-299-5404
Dusty Horwitt, Environmental Working Group: 510-593-5668

Key Issues: