BLM postpones oil and gas lease sale

January 7, 2015 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management has postponed an oil and gas lease sale for more than 4 square miles in northwestern New Mexico, saying more time is needed to review public comments that have raised concerns about environmental justice and other issues.

The BLM is in the process of updating its management plan for the San Juan Basin in the face of an expected shale oil boom, and a coalition of environmental groups has been pushing the federal agency to stop approving new drilling permits in the region until the plan is in place.

The groups contend that more development and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could harm the environment and sites such as the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

“In an area already besieged by oil, gas, and coal extraction, BLM cannot continue surrendering our public lands to industry without understanding the long-term cumulative effect that such development has on our health, environment and sacred cultural resources,” said Kyle Tisdel, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.


Environmentalists, the Hopi Tribe in Arizona and others have long criticized the idea of drilling near Chaco Canyon, a World Heritage site that includes a series of monumental stone structures that date back centuries. The area was considered a ceremonial and economic center for the ancestors of many Native American tribes in the region.

Efforts to lease parcels near the park drew fire in 2013. The BLM proposed limiting the number of parcels to be leased after consulting with tribes. Those under consideration were several miles from the park and adjacent to existing oil and gas operations.

Environmentalists and archaeologists unsuccessfully petitioned the agency to set aside more than 1 million acres around Chaco Canyon as an area of critical environmental concern.

The agency followed up in January 2014, saying no parcels near the park would be put up for bid.

The BLM decided last week that three parcels that would have been offered during this month’s sale will be considered again in October. The remaining two parcels will be deferred while the agency reviews the potential environmental effects of managing development in the basin.

Environmentalists argue that leasing the parcels would have opened the door for more fracking before an updated management plan is crafted.

According to BLM figures released this week, more than 3,700 drilling permits have been approved nationwide in the past year. The agency said the industry leased more new acres, drilled more wells and produced from more acres than the previous year.

BLM Director Neil Kornze said the agency is mindful of the management responsibility that comes with each new well.

“The portfolio of oil and gas wells overseen by the BLM has expanded at the same time that drilling has become more complex,” Kornze said in a statement. “We have a foundational responsibility to make sure that oil and gas operations on public lands are done safely and responsibly.”