By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Jan. 26 -- The US Bureau of Land Management has issued a plan for limited, environmentally sensitive oil and gas development on public lands in Otero and Sierra counties, New Mexico.
BLM said it will offer a limited number of leases on the Otero Mesa and Nutt grasslands. The plan amends a 1986 resource management plan that would have allowed leasing with few restrictions and without protections for grasslands and other sensitive areas developed in the BLM's current plan amendment.
"It is one of the most restrictive plans ever developed for oil and gas leasing on federal lands," a Jan. 24 BLM news release said. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat and energy secretary under former President Bill Clinton, opposes drilling in the area (OGJ, Jan. 26, 2004, p. 28).
New Mexico state officials argue that the BLM plan does not adequately protect fragile ecosystems in the mesa's Chihuahuan Desert, calling it a unique "eco-region" that is one of the most biologically diverse arid regions in the world.
BLM's amended plan will allow strictly regulated and carefully monitored activity, leading to a maximum surface disturbance of 1,589 acres from well pads, roads, and pipelines—less than one tenth of 1% of the total surface area. At most, there will be 141 exploratory wells drilled, resulting in up to 84 producing wells, BLM said.
"We have the science, the tools, and the will to ensure that the very limited amount of exploration and development allowed under this plan is accomplished under today's strict environmental and social standards," said Linda Rundell, BLM New Mexico state director in Santa Fe.
Almost 36,000 acres of grasslands with the highest potential as habitat for the endangered Aplomado falcon will be closed to leasing and permanently protected. In addition to these measures and overall limits on development, leasing will not be allowed in six existing and eight proposed areas of critical environmental concern and four wilderness study areas—bringing the total to 124,000 protected acres.