Federal land managers in the Permian Basin found leasing New Mexico public land in an upcoming sale to the oil and gas industry for fossil fuel production would have little impact on pollution.
The Bureau of Land Management published an environmental assessment Jan. 4 for an auction of oil and gas leases planned for May, offering 19 parcels on 3,280 acres in Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties in southeast New Mexico.
The lands would target the Permian Basin, known as the U.S.’ most active oilfield spanning from New Mexico to West Texas, estimated to produce about 5.5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) this month, according to the Energy Information Administration – almost half of the nation’s total of 11.7 million bpd.
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More than half of the lands offered in the sale, about 1,923 acres, were in Eddy County while 955 acres were in Lea County and 400 acres were offered Chaves County.
The BLM also included 26 parcels on about 6,844 acres in Cheyenne County, Kansas in the sale.
Feds say ‘minimal’ impacts from oil and gas on offered lands
In its environmental analysis, the BLM estimated the New Mexico lands would see a total of 19 horizontal wells drilled, producing about 3.2 million barrels of oil, 18.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas and about 11 million barrels of produced water.
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This would disturb about 85.5 acres of surface lands, the report read, through construction and drilling of the wells and associated pipelines and other infrastructure.
Such activities were unlikely to impact local groundwater supplies, the BLM reported, due to its own regulations, citing a lack of past contamination incidents in the region.
“There have been no documented instances of groundwater contamination attributed to well drilling and completion in the Pecos District, which further supports this conclusion,” the report read.
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The Permian Basin recently saw an uptick in earthquakes tied to the reinjection 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 “noticeably contribute” to induced seismicity in the region as the volume was considered minor and the wells were not in any geologically sensitive areas.
Impacts to soils, vegetation and endangered species were also found to be minimal, the report read. Nor were the 19 wells expected to have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions or other air pollution.
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But environmentalists cautioned that federal support of oil and gas operations throughout the nation could broadly lead to continual environmental degradation.
“Moving ahead with these leases is pushing the accelerator on climate change,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Biden administration can stop this ecocide by phasing out oil and gas extraction. We’re running out of time.”
How to comment on public land for oil and gas
A public scoping period was held in fall 2022 for technical suggestions for the sale, and the recent release of assessment opened a public comment period to allow for more feedback until Feb. 6.
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Comments can be submitted to the BLM online at the BLM’s Land Use Planning and National Environmental Policy Act Register.
“Please note the most valuable public comments are practical and relevant to the proposed action. For example, comments may question, within reason, the accuracy of information, methodology or assumptions, then present reasonable alternatives to those already analyzed,” read a statement from the BLM.
“Comments containing only opinions and/or preferences, or those seeming similar to other comments will not be addressed specifically in the environmental review process.”
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Oil and gas land sale held after federal reforms
The sale would be the second under the administration of President Joe Biden, which placed a moratorium on federal oil and gas leases when taking power in early 2021 to devise reforms to fossil fuel policy, resuming New Mexico leasing in July 2022 with the sale of 534 acres in the southeast region, netting $632,385.
As sales were paused, the federal government devised higher royalty and rental rates operators would pay on their leases, codified into law by the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year.
This was the first time the rates were adjusted since 1987.
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The law increased the royalty rate to 16.67 percent from the previous rate of 12.5 percent.
Rental rates were also upped in the Act to $3 an acre of the first two years and $5 an acres for years three through eight from the previous rate of $5 an acre.
For years nine and 10, operators were charged $15 an acre.
Previously, oil and gas companies paid $1.50 an acre for the first five years, and $2 an acre for each year after that.
Federal oil and gas leases are for 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.