Protests rally ahead of federal oil and gas lease sale in southeast New Mexico

Federal land managers planned to offer more than 10,000 acres of public land for auction to the oil and gas industry in New Mexico and Kansas this week, drawing protests from environmental groups demanding the sale be halted.

The Bureau of Land Management’s May 25 lease sale was set to include about 3,279 acres in Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties, in southeast New Mexico’s Permian Basin region, and another 6,844 acres in Cheyenne County, Kansas.

The lands sold at the auction would be leased for 10 years or as long as oil or gas is produced.

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Letters of opposition to the sale were delivered to the BLM’s field offices in Carlsbad, Farmington, Las Cruces and Albuquerque this week, with a rally planned outside BLM New Mexico headquarters in Santa Fe on the day of the sale.

The letter was signed by more than 200 environmental groups in New Mexico and other western states, calling on the agency to end the use of public land for fossil fuel extraction.

“We are shocked and dismayed that in spite of a clear scientific, political, and public consensus that action for the climate requires we begin to phase out fossil fuels, the BLM is continuing the legacy of sacrifice zones in New Mexico by moving forward with the auction of additional public and ancestral lands to more oil and gas leasing and drilling,” read the letter.

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The letter called out President Joe Biden for promises the groups contended Biden made on the campaign trail to phase out oil and gas drilling.

When Biden took office in 2019, his administration placed a halt on new oil and gas leasing as the Interior Department conducted a review of its fossil fuel policies.

That resulted in higher royalty rates and other fees charged to operators for extraction from leased federal land, but the groups argued this was not enough to protect the U.S. from perceived environmental threats posed by extraction.

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These included worsening air quality, water scarcity and extreme weather events like wildfires and flooding, the letter read.

“President Biden promised to end new oil and gas leasing on public lands,” the letter read. “The federal government, including the President himself, has a moral and ethical imperative to confront the climate crisis.

“The public health toll of oil and gas extraction is incalculable.”

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Kayley Shoup of Carlsbad, and an organizer of local environmental group Citizens Caring for the Future, said it was important to engage with BLM’s local offices in requesting oil and gas leasing end.

“The land they’re leasing is basically all in the Permian,” she said. “We’re asking the BLM director to halt this oil and gas sale. We know that’s highly unlikely, but we think it’s a reasonable ask at this point.”

Shoup referred to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that advocating for a global transition away from fossil fuels to avoid global warming of more than 1.5 degree Celsius – an international benchmark the scientific community believes could cause widespread environmental crisis.

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Continued leasing to oil and gas is also “tying” up public land in New Mexico, Shoup said, that could be used in the future for other uses as she said she expected fossil fuel demand to decline in the coming years.

Shoup argued oil and gas operations also threatened sensitive landforms in the Carlsbad area like underground, karstic acquirers.

“Things are starting to turn right now,” she said. “Demand is starting to decline slightly. What will that look like when there are more electric vehicles and renewable energy? We’re slowly running out of land. It’s a real frontline concern.”

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National group Friends of the Earth submitted a petition in April opposing the sale to the BLM, signed by 18,506 members across the U.S., records show.

“The proposal for the upcoming oil and gas lease sales threaten New Mexico and Wyoming’s most critical public lands,” the petition read. “Fossil fuel extraction threatens to poison public lands and pollute surrounding communities. We cannot prioritize oil and gas drilling over the health of people and the planet.”

The BLM was also underway in gaining approval for another lease sale of about 434 acres in Eddy and Lea counties slated for November.

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

This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Protests rally ahead of federal oil and gas lease sale in New Mexico