NEW MEXICO RESOURCE ADVISORY COUNCIL
February 28-March 2, 2006
RAC Members Present:
Philip Don Cantu
RAC Members Absent:
Designated Federal Official:
Designated State Official:
Eddie Bateson, Roswell FO
Doug Burger, Pecos District
Marcia deChadenedes, NMSO
Sam DesGeorges, Taos FO
Ron Dunton, NMSO
Thomas Gow, Albuquerque FO
Steve Henke, Farmington FO
Tony Herrell, Carlsbad FO
Theresa Herrera, NMSO
Buzz Hummell, NMSO
Jesse Juen, NMSO
Mark Lane, Socorro FO
Mark Lujan, Taos FO
Ed Roberson, Las Cruces FO
Ed Singleton, Albuquerque FO
Hans Stuart, NMSO
FEBRUARY 28, 2006 NEW RAC MEMBER ORIENTATION
The Taos Field Office hosted a tour of the La Cienega Petroglyphs and a tour of the solid waste
issues on public lands within the Taos Field Office.
PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD
Joanne opened the Public Comment Period at 6 p.m.
Heath Nero, The Wilderness Society (WS)
Mr. Nero distributed business cards. He is based in the WS Denver regional office, and is part of the WS BLM Action Center—which advocates for land protection. He said he is a nontraditional environmentalist, with a background in civil engineering. He graduated from West Point and spent five years on active military duty at stations including Iraq. He is interested in how BLMNM will manage land that has been identified as potential wilderness through citizen groups or BLM inventory, as well as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs).
He gave background information that 13.4 million surface acres are administered by BLM. From 2004 BLM public land statistics, 140,000 acres were set aside as WSAs. The WS conducted inventories that found 2 million more acres they think meet wilderness definition. So there are lands out there with wilderness characteristics that are not currently designated and not therefore protected. He is excited to see what BLMNM might decide to do to deal with WSAs and areas designated roadless.
· Bill asked for a summary of what the WS was asking for.
· Heath said it is incumbent on BLM to apply the land-use process to protect lands with wilderness characteristics. About 270,000 acres are currently managed, and the NM Wilderness Alliance proposal moves that closer to 500,000 acres. He suggested BLMNM inventory those acres to determine whether they do have wilderness characteristics, and if they do, to determine how to manage them.
· Heath explained that generally wilderness areas have to be roadless, provide solitude, and be in a natural state. BLM also states that wilderness has to be 5,000 acres or larger. One area in the Farmington district and two in Albuquerque that are of interest to the WS are designated WSAs. The remaining acres are around the state. He could provide that information.
No other members of the public asked to speak.
Joanne moved to adjourn at 6:51 p.m. Rachel seconded. Motion approved.
Joanne opened the meeting at 8 a.m. She introduced RAC member Mark Marley, NM State Land Office (SLO) representative Jerry King, and former RAC Chairman Raye Miller.
APPROVAL OF RAC MINUTES FROM SEPTEMBER 2005 (Attachment 2)
Joanne moved and Bruce seconded to accept the minutes as presented. Motion approved.
Linda asked Jerry whether he would like to speak. He addressed the meeting on behalf of SLO Commissioner Lyons. He has learned a lot about land management in the private sector as a BLM permittee. The SLO has the same mission concerning ACECs and WSAs as BLMNM in some areas and a different mission in others. He thanked BLMNM staff for its cooperation, including good progress on the exchange of 100,000 acres underway. He hopes to make a presentation on that exchange at the next RAC meeting, covering the process used and what was accomplished.
Linda said BLMNM has an outstanding relationship with the SLO. They have many issues in common, and the SLO is a professional outfit. One example of how well the two agencies are working together concerns the Sabinosa WSA near Las Vegas. It was set aside in the 1980s, but because of lack of access and mixed ownership, BLMNM considered it unsuitable. Now, BLMNM is working with the SLO to acquire state lands in one area that does meet wilderness criteria.
Sally introduced herself. She is the NM Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department Environmental Ombudsman. Her agency has several divisions, including Oil Conservation Division (OCD). There are many opportunities for cooperation on common issues. Her role on the RAC is partly to provide information that others may not be aware of, for example, the Governor's Initiative on Global Warming. She urged RAC members to contact her or view the agency website. She was pleased to see recent petroleum company advertising asking people, “What’s your carbon footprint?” It is good to look at land management with that approach. She passed around a DVD of a program on global warming recently aired on PBS. We all have the obligation to become more aware of global warming, she said, and the DVD offers opportunity for citizens to contribute.
Linda said BLM was recently in the news because of the president’s proposed budget, which included reductions for some conservation programs, and one component about selling public land. Congress will look at that budget and decide what it wants to do. It’s too early to know what will result.
BLM and the Public Lands Council sent a letter to all permittees asking whether they would like to adopt wild horses.
The Energy Policy Act required BLMNM to set up two pilot offices and add staff for a one-stop approach to permitting in Carlsbad and Farmington. The Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Reclamation and US Fish & Wildlife share the Farmington office. Progress leads to expectations, so there is pressure on BLM to report back to Congress that they’ve done something with the additional funding.
Hans spoke about his role in the 100th anniversary of the Antiquities Act—the first law to protect heritage resources on public land. There will be events and outreach with partners including the NM Museum of Natural History. Projects include an energy education kiosk for middle school students; and CDs with information about conservation, alternative technology, energy and resources. The Taos Field Office (FO) is working with Indian students to record rock art north of Espanola.
Deborah Seligman of the NM O&G Association introduced herself.
New RAC members introduced themselves.
NEW MEXICO OIL CONSERVATION DIVISION (OCD) OVERVIEW
Mark Fesmire, OCD Director
Mark said OCD is the branch of state government responsible for regulating O&G operations. During the early 1900s, the law of capture governed O&G—so anyone who could drill a well could drill as much as they wanted and keep it for themselves. He showed a historic photo of California wells packed solid side-by-side. That approach caused a glut of oil on the market and resulted in significant waste. In the late 1920s-early 1930s, proration (some producers limiting production to keep prices from dropping) brought changes.
As a result of discoveries in TX and OK, the price of oil dove from $1 per barrel to 4 cents per barrel. NM responded by creating the Oil Conservation Commission (OCC) and in 1935 passed the O&G Act—mandating that the OCC prevent waste and protect correlative rights. In the late 1960s environmental effects, especially on water, became issues. Environmental regulation fell to the states. Regulated under the 1935 Oil & Gas Act, a fine of $1,000 was set and still stands despite changes in monetary values.
Does the Water Quality Act affect O&G? There are only four OCD environmental inspectors to deal with violators, and even if caught, violators are still liable for only $1,000. The current statutory scheme is insufficient to protect water resources. We need to prevent contamination rather than remediate.
OCD is a general fund agency that regulates oil, gas and high-temperature geothermal production in NM to protect human health and the environment. Mark tries to change the rules—some of which have taken 10 years to implement¾to bring in newer concepts. The industry is changing, technology has changed, and OCD has to be able to move more quickly than in the past.
UPDATE ON OTERO MESA (Attachment 3)
Ed Roberson, BLM Las Cruces District Manager
On his handout Ed pointed out the McGregor Range, which BLM co-manages with the military. He referred to a write-up of what the district is doing, including an update on the Otero/Sierra County Fluids Plan. He indicated Otero Mesa, and mentioned grassland areas like one between Nutt and Hillsboro where there are occasional sightings of aplomado falcons. The falcons are thought to travel through that area, but there is no knowledge of their nesting there.
No wells have been drilled in the past eight years while the two-county land use plan was completed. The 2004 proposed plan addressed fragmentation of habitat and a cap on development, with locational controlled surface use. Stipulations require that development be followed by successful restoration and can only disturb 5% of any leasehold. That includes use of units that combine leases to be managed as one—which grew out of RAC discussions—to minimize surface disturbance. BLM restricted about half a million acres with controlled stipulations. The agency wants to have a reasonable program that contributes to the wellbeing of the public.
The governor’s consistency review revealed places where he thought BLM had not successfully addressed and presented alternatives. His concerns included tribal consultation, transition from the 2002 plan, cultural remains, water issues and game and fish. BLM supplemented the proposal in several areas, for example, withholding aplomado habitat from leasing. Also, the Caballos will remain on hold if the state takes action on bighorn sheep.
The consistency review was appealed. The Interior Secretary and BLMNM State Director decided the BLM plan was appropriate and issued a Record of Decision (ROD) January 24, 2006. Lawsuits were filed. Issues focused on tribal consultation and cultural sites. It was recommended that future plans include working with tribes to mitigate past impact before leasing. Cultural clearances include on-the-ground proposals.
Other issues included whether NEPA was followed, whether there should have been further public comment, and how the Endangered Species Act related to aplomado falcons. On January 24 BLM went to hearing. The judge will attempt to make a decision by end of March.
The Bennett Ranch 1,600 acre unit lease expired. The plan analyzed a level of development of 140+ wells over the life of the plan (40 years) with 800-900 acres disturbed. When assessed on NEPA terms for reasonable foreseeable development, BLM made that into a stipulation. At 1,600 acres, BLM will stop and negotiate to see whether the plan is sufficient to meet an environmental impact statement. With 5% stipulation in grassland, 32,000 acres could be leased without going beyond the 1,600-acre threshold disturbed.
Industry nominated 250,000 acres that have now lapsed and there is interest in additional leasing. There are 70,000 acres in Crow Flats, east of Otero Mesa, where leases will expire this summer. When those leases expire, Ed will propose additional leasing based on interest. He concluded that BLM needs to encourage O&G development in an environmentally sound way.
FIRE & DROUGHT UPDATE
Ron Dunton, BLMNM Deputy State Director
The upcoming fire season is upon us. At that moment 10,000 acres were afire near Cimarron with 35 mph winds. Scientists say we are in a long-term drought. Generally that would mean not much of a fire problem because there’s nothing to burn. But last year was wet, so grass grew that will now be fuel, especially in eastern NM. We’re facing what happened in the 1988 season, when there were burns from March through September and the monsoons never hit. Cattle keep the grass down, but cattle were taken off the land a few years back. There will be large grass fires on the east side of the state, and national forests will probably be closed.
Crews are better trained and better equipped than in the 1980s, but fires in oil patches could cause explosions. Nationally more moisture came and there will be fewer fires, so firefighting resources will be available to NM.
RECREATION UPDATE (Attachment 4)
Marcia deChadenedes, BLMNM & Washington Office
Representative for the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST)
Marcia showed a map of the 3,500-mile ‘King of Trails’ stretching from the Montana border to Mexico. It was created through 1978 legislation and has not been completed primarily because of higher priorities and lack of resources. The Secretary of the Interior challenged her agency to complete the trail by October 2008¾the 30th anniversary of its creation. Funds were earmarked for a full-time liaison to oversee completion and management of the trail. Marcia is the liaison, headquartered in NM because it has the most trail remaining to be completed.
The CDNST vision is to provide for scenic high quality hiking and horseback experiences while preserving and connecting the trail to significant natural, historical and cultural features.
BLM manages land along two national scenic trails and 10 national historic trails in the western states. NM has 227 miles of the CDNST. Of those, 150 miles of private and state land are the most challenging to work with. Marcia includes volunteers and partners to incorporate resource management techniques in the planning process and enhance the visitor experience. Last week the National Scenic and Historic Trails Strategy & Work Plan was published. It is available on the BLM website.
CDNST partners are:
Marcia noted activities along certain segments of the trail. Those involved with the trail within two miles of Cuba meet regularly to determine how to continue around the town. Other trail challenges include a bluff, lack of water, acquisition needs and border security. Marcia is working with Rotary Clubs of Mexico and NM on the trail’s southern portal.
UPDATE ON TAOS FIELD OFFICE
RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLAN (RMP) REVISION
Sam DesGeorges, Taos FO Manager
The Taos RMP amendment concerns 700,000 surface acres + subsurface acres. The RMP is in its 15th year, while the area has been affected by population growth and urban interface. Planning issues & management concerns include:
Land tenure and land uses in Santa Fe and Taos Counties
Special area designations (new or additional)
Santa Fe County issues
· Cerrillos Hills, incorporate BLM land with park
· Buckman Road as possible recreation area
· Galisteo Basin cultural site protection
· La Cienega/Cieneguilla—expand ACEC
· Santa Cruz Lake—expand recreation area boundary
There are things we can do, for example, provide land for water storage, but the point is how it’s sited. BLM can prescribe mitigation ahead of time. Special area designations arise, and established areas need to be reevaluated.
Rio Arriba County issues
San Miguel County issues
Taos County issues
Visual Resource Management (VRM)
• An opportunity to strategically manage for change into the future
• Could be developed at ‘landscape’ scale
Preliminary planning criteria
Data and GIS needs
Public and agency participation
· Potential cooperative agencies include: NM Department of Agriculture, NM Department of Game & Fish, and the two national forests, three counties and two cities involved. Cooperative agencies can bring someone into the planning process as a partner in providing information and guidance before the plan is complete.
Process for the plan
· alternative formulation
· internal review
· inputs from team
There will be multiple solutions for every issue. Sam showed the plan’s proposed schedule with key planning steps, resulting in an ROD/approved RMPA in the second or third quarter of FY 2009.
Robbie Baird LeValley, CO State University Cooperative Extension Agent & Rancher,
Range School is all about how to teach grass growth, grazing systems, range nutrition and grass management to a bunch of cowboys and bureaucrats. The school is in partnership with USFS, NRCS, universities and BLM. The course objective is to provide the principles of range management with the best available science and information about on-the-ground applications for the care and management of rangelands.
Principles are, for example, grass growth, freeze, grasshoppers, root development, and drought. All presenters have practical experience on the land and know how to make a system work. The school has been active since 1995 teaching what’s good for the landscape and how that plays for other values.
They provide in-depth range education via classroom instruction, rangeland monitoring workshops, range management schools, drought workshops, field tours and practical applications based on science. They get people on the ground to observe the landscape together.
The Range School grew out of 1993-1995 controversy over 35% v. 37% grazing utilization. It was developed by the permittees, who have helped tweak it over the years. Permittees wanted everyone to listen to the same message. They begged range specialists within the agencies and environmentalists to come to the Range School.
The Range School takes a comprehensive principle-based approach to help participants understand rangeland and implement grazing management plans. They help participants work through barriers. You don’t have to dumb things down for people that are out on the ground observing. She advised go with who you’ve got—it’s most important to move forward.
They do one day in a classroom and one in the field—start a conversation, understand complexities, and even come up with solutions. There is a written curriculum. The BLM national office provided funds to print the notebook of background materials and presentations.
Robbie listed the curriculum:
Results: over 3,500 permittees, federal land managers, wildlife personnel, environmentalists, general public, private rangeland owners and public officials have attended the Range School.
Robbie showed slides of progression on acres treated by Range School principles from 1991 to 2000. The BLM/USFS land shown was divided by fence with two different groups of permittees, some with active recreation, some with mining activities. Applying principles of plant vigor, with attention to limited concentrated moisture, permittees dropped from 27 to 21 days of grazing at mixed times. Changing grazing management made a difference. Based on the principles of grass growth, users can improve the grazing management system despite adverse temperature and rainfall. Ranchers saw increased weaning weights and increased conception rates. The system made animals easier to control and when the rains came, range responded significantly.
The Range School has not solved all problems. This is education, not conflict resolution. Characteristics of ranchers are making the changes. The Range School was requested by permittees—who designed the curriculum. It focuses on principles and does not dwell on systems or recipes. It focuses on the biology of the plans and the community. They related it to livestock nutrition and rangeland health. It is a collaborative forum.
Invasive weeds? Teach people to know when weeds are susceptible and take steps then. At the right time ranchers can hit the weeds with cattle or sheep. Some Range School ranchers used cattle to thin oak brush. Cattle open up the smaller diameter areas. The next year cattle remember, go back and open it up even more—setting back encroachment. Some weeds they won’t eat but will trample. CO ranchers tried spraying molasses on old decadent sagebrush in the fall. The cattle ate more than they would have otherwise, and trampled it down so new young growth came in. In some cases ranchers deliberately overgraze an area and come in with seed. WY and UT are doing similar work with sheep.
Agency range specialists reiterated information gained in the Range Schools. The door was kept open, so permittees came to agencies with ideas. Everyone has the same level of understanding as to what the land could look like and various tools that could be utilized. Communication between federal and state agencies and permittees has increased tenfold. Agency range specialists were highly encouraged to attend the Range Schools so they would hear the same messages as the permittees
Recently US Fish & Wildlife started sending district wildlife managers and habitat biologists to Range School—over 100 have attended. Observation powers have increased significantly. People see results on the range and subsequent productivity in their livestock. Permittees see where they can provide input to the RMP process.
This is just a start. Think about who on the team you could bring in. Make sure it’s somebody on the ground. Just start. CO Range School will train trainers to help another state get started. But local people are the experts.
RECLAMATION ISSUES IN SOUTHEAST NEW MEXICO
CHANGING THE PARADIGM
Doug Burger, Pecos District Manager
Restoration of vegetation & habitat is the key to success. Some restoration activities in SE NM are cutting edge, some not. The NW is also working on restoration and the two regions share ideas. There are nine counties in the Pecos District, 3.5 million surface acres and 10 million mineral acres. It is a major petroleum producing part of the state. Fifty percent of royalties go to the state, $1-1 ½ million/day, which is 1/3 of NM’s annual budget. The area has been heavily developed, with over 6,000 federal leases filed since the 1920s. Three million acres are under lease, with 29,413 active wells. Forty-one percent of wells are federal, and ~150 are plugged per year.
Despite use of best management practices, one size does not fit all. Early coordination is needed with operator, agency and surface owners. Avoid sensitive areas and minimize impacts. Carlsbad FO hands out CDs describing ways to successfully reclaim land. Operators can reduce the footprint of producing wells. He showed examples of good and not-so-good approaches for well pads, ditches and roads. It is important to minimize roads. A book on road standards was put out in the past few months. He recommended making sure that local governments could choose to minimize roads.
Helpful techniques include undulating roads that follow topography, causing less impact. During the drilling phase roads may have to be big for safety, but can then be minimized. Centralize tank batteries. Use raptor-proof power lines. Modify poles to prevent electrocution. In lesser prairie chicken (LPC) habitat, BLM avoids high structures, routes lines around nesting areas or buries them, and removes poles leading to inactive facilities.
Color selection minimizes contrast. Desert tan doesn’t work. Paint it one shade darker than the background to blend in; and paint everything on site the same color, including equipment added later.
Repeat landscape texture. Avoid pads on steep slopes where there would be more disturbance that’s harder to reclaim. Screen with vegetation or in a swale. Avoid skyline. Use low-profile tanks, although that makes a bigger footprint. Plan with the operator. CDs that Carlsbad and Socorro FOs distribute tell operators, for example, to snug new pads next to existing roads so fewer roads will be added. Re-contour roads and pipelines.
He referred to the sand dune lizard (SDL) and LPC, which we can prevent ever being listed as endangered by improving their habitats.
Most wells have a 39-year lifespan. He showed effect of reclamation on landscape through time. BLM wants to work with whomever owns the land to catch and clean up messes. Some issues are not attributable to current operators, but were handed down.
Mixed ownership creates problems. Through the original Homestead Act in 1862, a citizen could claim 160 acres + mineral rights. The 1909 Act expanded that to 320 acres, mostly uplands where more acreage was needed. In 1914, Congress retained the minerals and created split estates, raising homestead size to 640 acres with no mineral rights. Now there are 26 million acres of federal surface rights with 36 million acres of federal minerals, so 10 million acres are private surface with federal minerals. Most ranchers don’t have problems with clean operations. Abandoned sites, however, are problematic.
Doug traced the history of reclamation policies. From 1920 to the 1990s, caliche was ripped, which doesn’t work. When caliche is removed, reseeded land responds well. He showed sand dunes and roads restored for SDL habitat, and recent caliche removal areas where vegetation came up even without seeding. We can reclaim tough areas with rain, topsoil and some effort.
BLM continues to build partnerships. The Adopt a Ranch plan partners O&G companies with ranchers to cooperate on reclamation. The Natural Resource Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program applied $1.2 million last year to reclamation. BLM went to the NM Association of Conservation Districts and received funds that have been matched in dollars or in-kind services by several O&G companies.
A number of abandoned wells are left, so BLM looks for owners or figures out how to get reclamation done. Industry sees these abandoned wells their former colleagues ran away from as an embarrassment.
Doug finished with before/after slides of mesquite, creosote, cat’s claw and salt cedar control.
FEDERAL LANDS RECREATION ENHANCEMENT ACT (REA)
Buzz Hummell, BLMNM Outdoor Recreation Planner
Judy Levin, USFS Recreation, Heritage & Wilderness Resources Director
o Department of the Interior and Agriculture Secretaries are required to either establish Recreation RACs or utilize current RACs.
o An interagency agreement would authorize the USFS/BLM to work together with existing BLM RACs.
o Current draft policy directs that the BLMNM RAC would be utilized to address both BLM and USFS recreation fee program issues. USFS sites include west TX and OK national grasslands.
· The RAC would have no role in non-agency operated facilities or special recreation permits.
BLMNM has 12 recreation fee areas with 20 fee sites generating about $354,000/year that barely maintains them. Judy added USFS information. She showed a graph of 562 developed sites including campgrounds, trailheads, etc. This program covers about 100 of those. There are required amenities for sites to qualify for the fee program, including highly developed picnic areas and trailheads, as well as high impact recreation areas like Sandia Crest near Albuquerque. Expanded-amenity fee sites include campgrounds, cabins and boat ramps.
Special recreation permits are being considered for OHV or snow play areas. Typical fees ranges from $2 for a picnic area to $80 for a group campground. USFS currently has a Fee Board of 10-12 persons that reviews the business plan, project proposals and fee changes. That board would screen topics before they came before the RAC.
Region-wide USFS fee revenue was roughly $5.4 million in FY 2005. National forests in NM, OK and TX accounted for approximately $647,000. Most NM USFS sites are near Albuquerque and Santa Fe. AZ has a RAC that will oversee that state’s fee areas.
Expected workload for BLMNM RAC
The agencies don’t expect vast changes, so think this would be a minor workload for RAC. There are two possibilities: 1) this RAC could take it on; 2) this RAC could develop a subcommittee that would hold separate meetings and report to the RAC. Judy listed Recreation RAC subcommittee requirements, some of which are met by the current RAC. Nationally, BLM and USFS are working on an agreement that allows for the current RAC choice, but the subcommittee choice might become a requirement.
Mickey moved and Gerald seconded that the BLMNM RAC prefers to have the option to decide for itself whether to operate as a whole RAC group or create a subcommittee to address recreation fees for the USFS and BLM. Motion approved.
Joanne moved and Bruce seconded to adjourn at 4:42 p.m. Motion approved.
MARCH 2 RAC MEETING
Joanne called the meeting to order at 8:15 a.m.
AGENDA REVIEW/ORGANIZATIONAL DETAILS (Attachment 5)
Instead of working group reports at 10 a.m. the RAC agreed to discuss what members would like to accomplish through working groups.
SANTA FE COUNTY/BLM SOLID WASTE
Mike Anaya, Santa Fe City Commissioner
Sam DesGeorges introduced Mike Anaya and Constituent Services Liaison Jennifer Jaramillo. Sam said he and Mike have worked on several projects together and converse often.
There is a problem with illegal dumping in our counties, our state and our country. Locally, the area surrounding La Cienega is a dumping site, so a constituents’ group got together to talk about what to do. Representatives of La Cienenga, the SLO, BLM, and the county met several times over the past two years. A brainchild project of Mike’s was a DVD about the La Cienega Task Force put together with the help of Jennifer and of Ron Madrid from the sheriff’s department. The group hopes the DVD and other projects will stop, or at least cut down, illegal dumping.
The Santa Fe County Commission and La Cienega had community cleanups with volunteers, county workers, sheriff’s department and other agencies providing materials or labor. Their partnership includes shared funding to patrol and prosecute violators, and to address parking and trespassing. Land ownership is mixed so they needed a broad partnership. Linda said continued success rests on continuing collaboration.
ILLEGAL DUMPING: IS THERE A RAC ROLE?
WORKING GROUP REPORTS
Former working groups addressed O&G, grazing and access issues. The Access Working Group produced a document on OHVs that BLM adopted. Which working groups does the RAC want to continue or establish?
Joanne read aloud the proposed letter to Secretary Norton and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture about a Recreation RAC—based on the motion they approved. Should the departments decide there must be a subcommittee, who exactly would form the subcommittee? Buzz’s understanding was that the subcommittee would be entirely made up of RAC members. It’s still gray area. If the departments decide there should be a new committee with members representing specific segments—some RAC, we need to think about the process for finding those people.
SOUTHEAST NEW MEXICO MINERAL CONFLICTS
Tony Herrell, Carlsbad FO Manager
Tony showed a map of potash mines located 10 miles west of Carlsbad. There is historic conflict between the potash and O&G mineral industries. Potash was discovered in NM in 1925 by an O&G company, and potash mining began in 1929. Potash is used as fertilizer; and NM is the only place in the United States where potash deposits can be mined. One type of NM potash is found nowhere else in the world.
Tony spoke about geology, explaining how potential is determined for both O&G and potash. BLM used GIS information to map 2,814 O&G wells clustered within the potash area perimeters. Socorro FO combined production history and geologic structure to determine that most of the area has medium-to-high potential for O&G.
Both O&G and potash mining companies drill or mine in several geologic layers. Areas where potash ore has been measured are protected from O&G mining. The other issue is the history of Department of the Interior Secretarial Orders determining how the area has been managed. From 1939 to 1986 the potash area grew from 43,011 acres to 497, 813 acres.
There are 854 existing leases, covering over 300,00 acres. Chisum Trail Ventures is the largest affected O&G lessee. Most of its leases have remained in suspension. BLM analyzed which leases came first where the two are both present. By acreage, about 60% was leased first for potash.
Currently potash can be mined ¼ mile from oil wells and ½ mile from gas wells. That distance was first stipulated in the Secretarial Order of 1975 after a 1973 accident when potash was mined around wells. Breaks apparently allowed methane into the shaft and there was an explosion injuring 10 miners. This needs to be researched because it’s fundamental to current problems.
NEXT MEETING & AGENDA TOPICS
The next meeting was set for May 15-18, 2006, in Cloudcroft, with a field trip to Otero Mesa through the McGregor Range grazing area. The August meeting was tentatively set for Carlsbad.
Joanne moved and Mickey seconded to adjourn the meeting at noon. Motion approved.