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Oil and gas land sale in New Mexico protested by environmentalists alleging pollution harm

Carlsbad Current-Argus logo Carlsbad Current-Argus 11/16/2022 Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus

A sale of New Mexico’s public land to oil and gas companies was planned for next spring, and environmentalists criticized the administration of President Joe Biden for continuing to allow fossil fuel development to grow and allegedly pollute the region.

The sale announced Oct. 6 by the Bureau of Land Management’s New Mexico Office would see about 3,279 acres of federally owned land in Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties auctioned for lease to oil and gas companies in May 2023.

The 19 parcels proposed for lease in southeast New Mexico totaled 1,923 acres in Eddy County on eight parcels, 955 acres on nine parcels in Lea County and 400 acres on two parcels in Chaves County, according to BLM records.

More:Carlsbad's air pollution from oil and gas probed by New Mexico agency as industry grows

Environmental groups in New Mexico said the federal administration was risking worsening pollution by allowing more fossil fuels to be produced.

In a letter signed by groups throughout the state, including Carlsbad-based Citizens Caring for the Future, Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians and several in the state’s Northwest San Juan Basin region, they argued continued extraction in New Mexico would perpetuate climate change, leading to extreme weather events like wildfires, floods and drought.

“The proposed lease sales stand to impact a range of environmental justice, public health, natural resource, and wildlife issues, but chief among these issues is the existential imperative to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming,” the letter read.

“The actions the Bureau of Land Management may take based on them have serious implications for the United States, and all countries of the world, to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of additional warming—warming beyond which scientists predict catastrophic harm to people, ecosystems, and species worldwide.”

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The groups asked for a 30-day public comment period on the lease sale to be extended to at least 45 days to allow a deeper analysis they said was needed into the extent of the impacts posed by operations on the offered lands.

They also asked the BLM to hold public hearings for this and future proposed lease sales, arguing engagement from local communities was crucial for equitable decision-making on the use of land owned by the public.

“It is appropriate to hold public hearings or meetings where there is substantial environmental controversy concerning the proposed actions or substantial interest in holding the hearing,” the letter read.

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Kayley Shoup, organizer for Citizens Caring for the Future and a native of Carlsbad said more oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin region would only further its economic dependence on the volatile fossil fuel market.

She argued New Mexico and the U.S. should focus on transitioning to more dependable, less pollutive forms of energy.

“Opening hundreds of thousands of additional public and ancestral tribal lands for more oil and gas drilling only serves to shackle regions such as the Permian for decades to come to boom-and-bust cycles that come with an oil-fueled economy,” Shoup said.

“Continuing a legacy of pollution and extraction zones is egregious at a time when addressing the impacts of climate change and investing in renewable energy should be a top priority.”

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Miya King-Flaherty, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter said the sale and future oil and gas drilling on the lands the BLM planned to sell would disproportionately affect minority communities in New Mexico’s southeast region.

“More oil and gas leasing is the exact opposite of what is needed to address the climate crisis,” she said. “It furthers our dependence on fossil fuels while placing Black, Brown, Indigenous, and frontline communities at higher risk of harmful and unacceptable health and environmental consequences.”

The upcoming sale would be second auction of public land to the oil and gas industry since leasing resumed in June, following a court order against a temporary halt on land leases for fossil fuels enacted by the Biden administration as it took power in 2021.

More:Canadian oil and gas company targets Permian Basin fossil fuels as energy transition looms

It will also be the first sale under updated regulations imposed by the Inflation Reduction Act passed into law earlier this year.

That means royalty rates paid by operators on the lands were increased from 12.5 percent to 16.67 percent, while minimum bids were raised from $2 to $10 per acre, and rental rates were hiked from $1.50 to $3 an acre for the first two years and to $5 an acre for years three to eight of the leases.

For the last two years of the 10-year leases, operators pay $15 an acres, under the new law, and continue to pay that rate for the rest of the lease’s lifetime which continues as long as oil and gas is produced.

Oil and gas industry leaders were also critical of the federal administration for the added requirements, arguing they increased the cost of doing business in New Mexico where most of its oil and gas operations occur on federal land.

"These increases of the minimum bid, rental rate, and especially the royalty rate will further incentivize operators to move their development dollars away from New Mexico to better opportunities in other states,” said Joe Vigil with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

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

This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Oil and gas land sale in New Mexico protested by environmentalists alleging pollution harm

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