Sierra Club Productions
Sierra Club Chronicles
Episode 4: Range Wars Rage On
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About this Episode
In the West, The Bureau of Land Management has allowed increased drilling and allowing drilling practices that are killing ranchers' cattle. Now, a coalition of ranchers including Republicans and Bush supporters are fighting back.
A traditional New Mexico ranching couple Tweeti and Linn Blancett, lead their cattle up a slope, past a natural gas drilling platform and around industrial equipment that occupies the once-pristine public land where their cattle used to graze undisturbed. Now they can't believe what they see: a natural gas clean up crew ripping the lining of a waste pit, allowing toxic, industrial waste water to seep into the land. This is a blatant violation of the environmental rules that govern the use of public lands. Chris Velasquez, a fellow rancher shares this same bond to the land and he is just as furious as to what is going on.
Ray Sanchez, the BLM's Northern New Mexico spokesperson, tells us that the fact that the land is publicly owned and managed by the federal government, gives the Department of the Interior the right to lease the subsurface mineral rights to oil and natural gas companies. This creates a tricky situation in which these public lands have "dual leasors" - the ranchers who graze their cattle on the land, and the oil and gas companies that drill for oil and minerals beneath the surface of the land.
The Blancetts and Velasquez share something else in common - their cattle are becoming sick and they are dying. After some reconnaissance they found strange spills near the drilling platforms that peppered their grazing lands. They quickly concluded that their cattle must be drinking the chemical waste spilled by the oil and gas companies.
He and the Blancetts called BLM to show them the oil-contaminated areas on their leased property. The BLM assured Chris that "they would take care of it."
Forced to start selling their cattle by astounding numbers - their very livelihood was being affected. Meanwhile, the oil and gas companies denied that they were responsible for the ranchers' dead cow and the BLM's inaction emboldened them.
Fed up, Tweeti also took action. She did something she never thought she would do. As a long-time member of the Republican Party, she joined the San Juan Citizen's Alliance, a local environmentalists group with the goals of fighting the oil and natural gas companies' pollution of public lands.
With groups like the San Juan Citizen's Alliance pushing for smarter energy solutions and policies that protect the land, a landmark ruling by Congress was made in December 2006. The Valle Vidal Protection Act of 2005 will permanently protect the area from destructive mineral leasing.