Federal land managers in the Permian Basin determined that leasing public lands in New Mexico, pending sale to the oil and gas industry for fossil fuel production, would have little impact on pollution.
The Bureau of Land Management on Jan. 4 released an environmental assessment for a May auction of oil and gas leases offering 19 lots on 3,280 acres in Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties in southeastern New Mexico.
The lands would target the Permian Basin, known as the US’s most active oil field, stretching from New Mexico to West Texas and expected to produce 5.5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) this month, according to the Energy Information Administration – almost half of the country’s total of 11.7 million bpd.
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More than half of the lots offered for sale, approximately 1,923 acres, were in Eddy County, while 955 acres were in Lea County and 400 acres were offered in Chaves County.
The BLM also included 26 parcels on approximately 6,844 acres in Cheyenne County, Kansas.
Feds say ‘minimal’ impact of oil and gas on offered lands
In its environmental analysis, the BLM estimated that a total of 19 horizontal wells would be drilled in the New Mexico areas, producing approximately 3.2 million barrels of oil, 18.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas and approximately 11 million barrels of water produced.
More:Oil and gas is trying to ‘clean energy’ amid pollution concerns in the Permian Basin.
This would disturb about 85.5 acres of surface land, the report said, by constructing and drilling the wells and associated pipelines and other infrastructure.
Such activities are unlikely to affect local groundwater supplies, the BLM reported based on its own regulations, citing a lack of previous contamination incidents in the area.
“There have been no documented instances of groundwater contamination attributable to well drilling and completion in the Pecos District, further supporting this conclusion,” the report said.
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The Permian Basin has recently seen an increase in earthquakes associated with the re-injection of produced water as a means of disposal.
The BLM estimated that injecting produced water from the wells at a rate of about 40,000 barrels per month would not “significantly” contribute to induced seismicity in the region because the volume was considered small and the wells were not located in geologically sensitive areas areas were located.
Impacts on soils, vegetation and endangered species are also minimal, the report said. The 19 wells were also not expected to have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions or other air pollution.
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However, environmentalists warned that government support for oil and gas exploration across the country could result in continued environmental degradation.
“Pushing these leases forward is accelerating climate change,” said Randi Spivak, director of public lands at the Center for Biodiversity. “The Biden administration can stop this ecocide by phasing out oil and gas production. We are running out of time.”
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A public exploratory period for technical proposals for sale was held in the fall of 2022, and the recently published assessment opened a public comment period to receive more feedback by February 6th.
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Comments may be submitted to the BLM online at the BLM’s Land Use Planning and National Environmental Policy Act Register.
“Please note that the most valuable public comments are practical and relevant to the proposed action. For example, comments may reasonably question the accuracy of information, methods or assumptions and then present reasonable alternatives to those already analyzed,” the BLM said in a statement.
“Comments containing only opinions and/or preferences, or those that appear to be similar to other comments, are not specifically addressed in the environmental review process.”
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Sale of oil and gas properties after federal reforms
The sale would be the second under the administration of President Joe Biden, who imposed a moratorium on federal oil and gas leases when he took power in early 2021 to develop fossil fuel policy reforms, and leasing in New Mexico in July 2022 with the sale of 534 acres in the Southeast region for a net gain of $632,385.
When sales were halted, the federal government drafted higher license fees and rental rates that operators would pay for their leases, codified into law by the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year.
This was the first time tariffs had been adjusted since 1987.
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The law increased the royalty rate to 16.67 percent from the previous 12.5 percent.
Rental rates were also increased under the Act to $3 per acre for the first two years and $5 per acre for years three through eight from the previous rate of $5 per acre.
In years nine and ten, operators were charged $15 per acre.
Previously, oil and gas companies paid $1.50 per acre for the first five years and $2 per acre thereafter.
State oil and gas leases have terms of 10 years or as long as oil or gas is produced.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.