Rare Grasslands and Groundwater of Otero Mesa Threatened by Plans to Expand Oil and Gas Development in New Mexico
September 28, 2006
The wild and expansive Otero Mesa grasslands of New Mexico constitute some of America’s last remaining Chihuahuan Desert grassland regions. Otero Mesa acts as a habitat to numerous species of wildlife as well as a frequented recreation spot for area residents and tourists; in addition, this region is home to a number of independent cattle ranches, some of which have been in the hands of the same families for five generations. Otero Mesa is also home to a large freshwater aquifer, which according to conservative estimates holds enough water to serve a community of over 500,000 people for over fifty years. However, industry interests are working to open this region up to oil and gas drilling, the effects of which could potentially destroy much of this rare and unique remaining wild land.
The Sierra Club and a number of other environmental organizations have been working to protect Otero Mesa from the devastating effects of drilling. Unfortunately on September 28, 2006 a federal judge ruled in favor of the Bureau of Land Management, stating that their analysis of the impacts of oil and gas development was adequate for the planning stage of the drilling process; at the leasing stage BLM will have to perform additional analysis. In his ruling the judge acknowledge the importance of this region, referring to Otero Mesa and Nutt grass as “highly significant environmental resources” that “support a large variety of relatively rare plants and animals”. Otero Mesa is a unique resource which must be preserved for future generations.
January 24, 2006
Just one hour's drive from El Paso, Otero Mesa is one of the few wild places remaining in our nation, serving as a haven for hiking, camping, birding, and other outdoor activities. Composed of mountain ranges, broad basins, and volcanic landforms, the Otero Mesa also contains one of the largest stretches of rare Chihuahuan Desert grassland and is host to one of the last genetically pure herds of pronghorn antelope. It used to be a quiet wilderness, but when natural gas was discovered deep in the earth in 1998, a battle began over protections for this treasured area. After the Bush administration announced a plan to open the area to virtually unchecked oil and gas development, a local coalition including the Sierra Club joined together to file suit and help protect the region from the devastating impacts of drilling. In late January, the groups went to court for oral argument. The Bureau of Land Management originally agreed to postpone leasing in the area until mid-February; however, the court's decision is not expected until March at the earliest.
May 26, 2005
In spite of widespread local opposition from sportsmen, ranchers and conservationists, the federal Bureau of Land Management has decided to open more than 90 percent of the public lands between El Paso, TX and Carlsbad, NM to oil and gas development. The area includes the sensitive Otero Mesa and its endangered Chihuahuan desert grasslands. Oil and gas development will threaten valuable groundwater reserves, disturb precious archaeological sites, and severely disrupt local wildlife, including big game. Participating in a coalition represented by Earthjustice, Sierra Club has joined a lawsuit to support local citizens in their fight to protect the region from the devastating impacts of oil and gas drilling. The lawsuit comes one month after the State of New Mexico filed a separate suit asking a federal court to overturn BLM’s plans to drill because of the state’s interest in protecting groundwater and ecological resources.
July 19, 2004
In late June, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission gave the “Chihuahuan Desert Area Rule” a green light, increasing protection for the Otero Mesa from polluting energy development. The Sierra Club helped provide public and technical testimony to support the new rule, which imposes stringent safeguards against pollution from natural gas development. The victory comes in the midst of a long legal battle to protect the Otero Mesa from energy company exploitation. The Bush administration had called for a fast-tracked energy development in the area, going so far as to direct the Bureau of Land Management to short-circuit environmental laws and put the project on fast forward. Sierra Club stepped up to the challenge, collaborating with locals and Governor Bill Richardson who called for balanced energy development. This early victory sends a loud signal to the Bush administration that New Mexicans and the Sierra Club want an energy policy that protects and values our wild public lands.
Details and Documents:
Fluid Response to Otero Mesa
July 31, 2007, by Nathan Newcomer, Albuquerque Tribune
Governor Bill Richardson and Attorney General Patricia Madrid fight new plan to drill at Otero Mesa
June 07, 2005 Governor Richardson Press Release
Sportsmen and Conservation Groups Join Fight to Save Otero Mesa's Water & Wildlife Resources From Irresponsible Giveaway to Big Industry
May 26, 2005 Sportsmen and Conservation Groups Press Release
Next oil and gas lease sale to include Otero Mesa parcel
June 7, 2005, Free New Mexican
Otero Mesa Drilling Puts Ground Water at Risk
by Steve Finch, Hydrologist, Albuquerque Journal, August 6, 2004.
New Rules May Reduce Drilling on Otero Mesa
by Tania Soussan, Albuquerque Journal, July 16, 2004.
Keeping Secrets: A court ruling could tear through this administration's veils over energy meetings - or it could seal them
Op-Ed by Pat Gallagher, Albuquerque Tribune, June 17, 2004.
New Mexico enviros hope to make Otero Mesa drilling an election issue
by Alex Kaplun, July 13, 2004, Greenwire
SURVEY: N.M. Voters Favor Richardson Otero Mesa Proposal Over Federal Plan By Wide 63%-23% Margin
Campaign to Protect America's Lands, July 8, 2004.
KUNM Community Public Radio program entitled "Sierra Club Versus Vice President Cheney"
Pat Gallagher visits with Leslie Clark to discuss the Cheney Case.
Airdate Wednesday, June 2, 2004.
See other "Promoting Resilient Habitats" cases.