BLM pledges to hire more staff for New Mexico field office

The Dept. of Interior's Bureau of Land Management Sept. 4 assured a key lawmaker that it will hire more staff in its New Mexico field office to oversee local oil and gas leases.

By OGJ editors

WASHINGTON, Sept. 6 -- The Dept. of Interior's Bureau of Land Management Sept. 4 assured a key lawmaker that it will hire more staff in its New Mexico field office to oversee local oil and gas leases.

BLM made the announcement following pointed concerns by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) that the agency was reneging on an earlier commitment to expand the office.

Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, met May 15 with BLM Director Kathleen Clarke following complaints by some ranchers in the Four Corners area (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona). Ranchers said BLM needed to increase the number of permit inspectors sooner rather than later because of environmental damage from operating leases that damaged livestock (OGJ, June 3, 2002, p. 22). Later at a May 31 hearing in Bloomfield, NM, BLM officials said they would hire 13 inspectors for New Mexico during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

But the senator late last month criticized the agency, saying he had learned that BLM intended to only hire 5 staff positions for his state.

BLM responds
Responding to Bingaman's concerns, Clarke in a Sept. 4 letter reiterated support for expanding the BLM local office in Farmington, NM.

"I appreciate you calling to my attention BLM's preliminary cost target of an additional $500,000 slated for New Mexico for the Inspection & Enforcement (I&E) program, and your feeling that this amount will not fulfill my commitment to add an adequate number of I&E positions to New Mexico," Clarke wrote in her letter to Bingaman.

"I am committed to taking care of issues identified in the New Mexico I&E program, and other needs in the I&E program, especially those generated by coalbed methane development. Accordingly, I am reiterating the BLM's commitment made to you during our visit on May 14, 2002, to fund 13 I&E position in New Mexico during the Fiscal Year 2003," Clarke said.

Bingaman, also on Sept. 4, said he was heartened by Clarke's statement.

"I'm pleased that the BLM director has reiterated in writing commitments that were made to me earlier this year. Inadequate staffing has caused a number of problems for the state, especially in the Four Corners region," Bingaman said. "That area has been plagued with numerous inspection and enforcement problems, including inaccurate reporting of production, sales and royalty amounts, and a failure to restore land once resource extraction is complete. I expect that additional staff will help alleviate some of that."

Bingaman said that according to BLM's own records, New Mexico has not received its fair share of funding for oil and gas inspection and enforcement. BLM records showed that two thirds of the national staffing shortfall in oil and gas inspectors was in New Mexico, but the state was slated to receive only one third of the projected increase in the national inspection and enforcement budget this year.

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