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1: Executive Summary

2: About Oil/Gas Leases

3: Oil & Gas Impacts

4: Bush Admin Rollbacks

5: The Spin on Drilling

6: Hotspot: Roan Plateau, CO

7: Hotspot: Otero Mesa, NM

8: Hotspot: Rocky Mtn Front, MT

9: Hotspot: Powder River Basin, WY

10: Hotspot: Book Cliffs, UT

11: Oil, Gas, Political Cash

12: EWG Recommendations

13: Methodology

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Otero Mesa, New Mexico

"I think there's a huge question mark about whether there's ever going to be an economically viable resource that anyone will want to produce...It's really pretty small potatoes."

— New Mexico BLM Director, Linda Rundell, on energy development in Otero Mesa (Cart 2004).

Quick Facts: Federal Land in Otero Mesa
  • Acres leased: 514,741
  • Acres leased (01/2003-05/2004): 14,551
  • Acres that could be leased with minimal protections: 1.4 million
  • Gas in Otero Mesa could supply U.S. for: less than 16 days (industry estimate) (Albuquerque Journal 2004, USDOE Natural Gas 2004)

For less than 16 days of natural gas, the BLM has proposed drilling in a 2 million acre-portion of the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico that includes a 1.2 million acre fragile grassland known as Otero Mesa. New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, leading an unusually diverse coalition of citizens, recently announced his opposition to the plan (BLM Draft EIS 2000 2-38, 2-39, Cart 2004).


Otero Mesa Interactive Map

Map Note: Otero Mesa area outlined in red depicts 1.2 million acres of sensitive grassland that is part of a 2 million-acre area on which BLM has proposed natural gas drilling operations. The operations could result in 140 wells drilled (National Atlas 2003, Energy Inventory 2003, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance 2004).

A Rare Desert

According to New Mexico Governor, Bill Richardson, the Chihuahuan Desert "is one of the most biologically diverse arid regions in the world." The Desert is home to 23 percent of the world's 1,500 cactus species, the highest percentage of any of the western hemisphere's ecoregions (Richardson Consistency Review 2004). The World Wildlife Fund has listed the desert as one of its "Global 200," described as "a science-based global ranking of the Earth's most biologically outstanding terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats" (WWF 2004).

The BLM has expressed its own concerns about drilling in the area. The BLM has written that Otero Mesa includes "one of the largest contiguous grasslands left in the region... Loss of grasslands due to clearing for pads and roads would lead to fragmentation of habitat [for antelope]." In addition, the BLM has written that increased traffic along roads in another portion of the Otero Mesa area "would increase the potential for direct and indirect effects on wildlife. Loss of woodland habitat would displace many species of birds and other wildlife. Loss of grasslands would reduce populations of small mammals, which provide a prey base for raptors." And the BLM has noted that "threatened and endangered wildlife species also could be significantly impacted if production activities occur within 1,600 feet (456meters) of occupied habitat" (BLM Draft EIS 2000, 4-75, 4-76, 4-77, 4-31).

An Environmental Working Group analysis of government leasing and drilling records shows that the oil and gas industry already pressures the mesa — a summary of current leasing activity in Otero Mesa is shown below.