The first lease of New Mexico state for oil and gas production during President Joe Biden’s tenure could be sold in the coming year.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) pushed a sale, which completed a public comment period on October 1 when its parent agency, the US Department of the Interior (DOI), conducted a review of its fossil fuel program.
When Biden took office in January, Biden put the new state oil and gas leasing on hold indefinitely as the DOI conducted a review of its fossil fuel policy to better address growing pollution and climate change concerns.
A federal judge in Louisiana issued an injunction this summer banning the DOI from enforcing the halt to new leases and ordered the federal government to resume rental sales it had previously conducted quarterly during President Donald Trump’s previous tenure.
Environmental and conservation groups in New Mexico argued against resuming leasing before the DOI’s review was completed, fearing the federal government had failed to adequately address pollution issues due to oil and gas developments.
They were particularly concerned about new oil and gas developments heading into the southeastern Permian Basin region of the state, where state officials have determined that increased ozone levels near the ground are believed to be a result of increased fossil fuel extraction.
In question were approximately 520 acres in southeast New Mexico – one 320 acres in Chaves County and 200 acres on four lots in Lea County.
The sale also included 14 acre property in Dewey County, Oklahoma.
Leasing contracts are issued for 10 years and oil and gas are produced for as long afterwards.
The federal oil and gas policy is not suitable for new leases?
In a letter dated October 1st to the BLM Acting State Director of New Mexico Melanie Barnes, a coalition of environmental groups from western states, including the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, pointed to increasing greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts from fossil fuel development.
They argued that no new leases should be sold until the federal government develops strategies to mitigate such problems.
“In addition, federal oil and gas programs do not take sufficient account of environmental damage to land, water and other resources, encourage speculation by oil and gas companies, and often leave impact communities out of important discussions about how to manage public land and waters . ”Read the letter.
“Despite the recent court ruling, we believe the BLM has no obligation to offer any of the nominated properties for sale and continues to have considerable discretion to protect public land, water and wildlife, cultural resources and sacred sites, and community health and security from the effects of the state oil and gas program. “
The groups pointed to several legal cases that they argued set a legal precedent for the BLM to decide whether to issue leases based on their environmental impact.
The letter also pointed to alleged flaws in the leasing program, such as “outdated” guarantees and license payments operators pay to the American public, and concluded that without reforms, the leasing sales would not serve the “public interest”.
Without addressing such issues in their ongoing, as-yet-unpublished review of the program, the groups argued that lease sales should be postponed until reforms are in place.
A letter from September 29th to the BLM New Mexico-only groups repeated similar complaints with BLM’s leasing policies that would likely remain in effect for sale in 2022.
“In New Mexico in particular, we are seriously concerned that the resumption of leasing at this point will continue to endanger fish and wildlife, burden New Mexicans with even more cleanup costs for the oil and gas industry, and taxpayers not fully investing in land and resource development public property, ”says the letter.
When the sale was announced in August, oil and gas industry leaders expressed frustration that the land, which they said had already received extensive environmental research and stakeholder comments, would not be offered for lease until 2022 would be.
“Announcing further analysis of rental packages without planning actual sales this year is in harmony with the wording of the law or the spirit of the judge’s order to lift the rental ban,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance.
“The environmental analysis for lots that could be auctioned was completed at the beginning of the year before the illegal lease ban was announced. This analysis does not have to be repeated. “
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected], or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.