BLM New Mexico History

BLM - New Mexico has two unique programs in its energy portfolio that require special expertise and management: potash and helium.  These programs support jobs, and are major contributors to the economic wellbeing of the United States.

Potash was discovered in southeastern New Mexico in 1925 as drilling occurred for oil and gas.   The Secretary of the Interior’s Potash Area, near Carlsbad, accounts for more than 75 percent of U.S. potash production, and has supported steady, local employment for nearly 85 years.  The Area is the only place in the world where langbeinite (potassium-magnesium sulfate) is commercially produced.  The principal use of potash is as an agricultural fertilizer or plant nutrient.  It is also used in chemicals, pharmaceuticals, soap, matches, glass, and storage batteries.  In 2012, the Secretary of the Interior signed a new order that promoted an all-inclusive strategy that ensures orderly co-management of potash and oil and gas reserves. 

Helium Plant in Amarillo, Texas. Photo by Sherman Hogue, BLM.
Helium plant in Amarillo, Texas. Photo by Sherman Hogue, BLM.

The BLM’s helium program, in Amarillo, Texas, is a product of the geologic conditions in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas that make the natural gas in these areas some of the most helium-rich in the world.  These natural gas fields run from southwest Kansas through the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas.  Crude helium is an important resource for technology development and other important uses related to national defense, energy, medicine, industry, and space exploration.  Following World War I, Congress created the Federal Helium Program to ensure that helium would be available to the government for defense needs.  In 1929, the Bureau of Mines constructed and operated a large helium extraction and purification plant near Amarillo, using a natural geologic formation for storage.

Congress redefined the government’s role in helium production by passing the Helium Privatization Act of 1996, and gave the BLM responsibility for operating the Federal Helium Reserve and the Federal Helium Program.  It is the only helium storage reservoir, enrichment plant, and pipeline system in the United States.  The reservoir supplies more than 50 percent of domestic helium and more than 22 percent of the world’s helium.  The program has returned more than $1.642 billion dollars to the U.S. Treasury from the sale and auction of helium between 2005 and 2016.

BLM New Mexico has one of the largest oil and gas programs in the agency, and manages some of the most productive in the country.  The four-state area has over 45 million acres of mineral estate and over 2 million acres of Native American mineral estate.  In addition, we manage two of the largest reserves of natural gas in the world: the Hugoton Field in southwest Kansas and San Juan Basin in northwest New Mexico.

BLM employees are committed to being good stewards of public lands.  We continue to make resources available for communities, while improving the condition of watersheds, landscapes, and wildlife habitat.  In pursuit of these objectives, the BLM is working to restore and reclaim public lands, including adjoining State and private lands, leaving them in better condition than we found them through a partnership-initiative called Restore New Mexico.  Through this initiative, the BLM, along with its partners, has restored over 3 million acres since 2005.