Renewed debate over BLM’s oil and gas lease sales



Ninety-four parcels of federal public land in New Mexico and West Texas that were offered in the Bureau of Land Management’s May oil and gas lease sale postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic were added to the BLM’s August lease sale in addition to 19 more parcels in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. But there is opposition to the newly-scheduled auction.

The new parcels included two in Eddy County on 680 acres and seven in Lea County on 2,082 acres according to a report by the Carlsbad Current-Argus.

A previously offered 40-acre parcel in Eddy County was dropped from the August sale.

In Oklahoma, a 16.5-acre parcel was offered in Blaine County, along with a 58.6-acre parcel in Dewey County and a 29.7-acre parcel in Ellis County.

In Texas, five parcels were offered in Washington County for a total of about 321 acres, along with a 105-acre parcel in Lee County, and a 71-acre parcel in Denton County.

BLM Public Affairs Specialist Allison Sandoval said the 94 parcels postponed from the May sale would be offered during the Aug. 26 to 27 lease sale, but protests would only be accepted for the new 19 parcels as the process was already completed for the May sale before it was postponed.

The protest period for the upcoming sale was scheduled from June 22 to July 1.

In that sale, five parcels of land were offered in Eddy County on about 3,500 acres of public land, with 10 offered in Lea County on about 4,100 acres and another single parcel in Wise County, Texas on 31 acres.

About 80 percent of the sale was for parcels in Chaves County, to the north of Lea and Eddy, with 79 parcels nominated on 37,000 acres of public land.

Parcels previously nominated in the San Juan Basin in northwest New Mexico were removed from the sale, records show.

Environmentalists called on the BLM to block all lease sales during the COVID-19 pandemic which continued to spread throughout New Mexico as of Tuesday when the August sale was announced.

Miya King-Flaherty, oil and gas organizer with the Rio Grand Chapter of the Sierra Club said the August lease sale should be postponed along with the May sale, amid historically low oil prices brought on by the pandemic.

The price of oil plummeted below $0 per barrel for the first time in history in April, recovering slightly in the follow months, but had yet to cross the $50 per barrel threshold most operators need to break even on oil production.

This administration has absolutely no good reason or justification for moving forward with the August lease sale when prices are at historic lows and operators are shutting in wells and seeking royalty relief,” King-Flaherty said.

She also called on the BLM to allow public comment on all the parcels offered in the August sale, including those postponed from the May sale that already underwent a previous public comment and protest period.

“Furthermore, it’s absolutely egregious that the Bureau of Land Management is sneaking through parcels from the postponed May lease into August and silencing the public from further commenting on them,” King-Flaherty said.

“The public should have every right to comment on public lands that are to be sacrificed for oil and gas development that is harming our public health and our communities.”

James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children said lease sales were inappropriate during the pandemic, and the low price of oil could cause operators to bid lower on land to be used for oil and gas development.

“Moving forward with oil and gas lease sales in the middle of this pandemic–when the oil market is crashing, and communities are focused on the health and safety of their loved ones — is misguided, dangerous, and just flat wrong,” Jimenez said.

“It is irresponsible for the Trump administration to lease New Mexico’s public lands for below-market value when the industry is actively suspending operations and New Mexico workers and families are suffering.”

Source: Carlsbad Current-Argus