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Environmental Groups Criticize Runaway Oil and Gas Development as Harmful to Wildlife and Air Quality

Environmental groups were highly critical of the Farmington BLM draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for ignoring wildlife in oil and gas development plans

Santa Fe, NM - The WildEarth Guardians joined several regional environmental groups in critizing the Bureau of Land Management for ignoring wildlife in oil and gas development plan. The ninety day public comment period came to a close Thursday, and environmental groups were highly critical of the Farmington BLM draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement.

The plan determines the fate of nearly 1.5 million acres of surface land and over 3 million acres of mineral rights in the San Juan Basin region of Northwestern New Mexico. The plan has been generally critized by a wide range of concerned citizens for the undaunted development of oil and natural gas, including development of controversial coal bed methane reserves, without sufficient protection of air quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat. The Bush Energy Plan alone is driving the scope of development and environmental degradation to be witnessed in the Four Corners.

Over the next twenty years approximately 12,000 new oil and gas wells could be developed on lands administered by the Farmington Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management. This scenario would require over 800 miles of new roads, and disturb approximately 45,000 acres of land. Biologists agree that it is impossible to accurately access the potential impact on wildlife alone, as the BLM has no reliable baseline data on wildlife populations and habitat requirements.

Hamilton Smith, Conservation Biologist for the WildEarth Guardians, states, "trends are already visible which indicate the detrimental impacts of oil and gas development on wildlife populations." The BLM's wildlife management program's objective is to, "insure optimum populations and a natural abundance and diversity of fish and wildlife values by restoring, maintaining and enhancing habitat conditions". Such provisions are not being met by the current management plan.

The primary effect of oil and gas exploration and extraction on native species is habitat fragmentation. Wildlife migration routes may be disrupted, feeding and nesting sites may be isolated into parcels too small to use, and the general effect of widespread activity creates noise, emits pollutants, and generally disturbs animal behavior.

The significance of development of this magnitude has potentially greater concerns for the general public in this region. This Resource Management Plan will allow air quality to significantly degrade, and may result in non-compliance with federal air quality standards. Increased emissions of methane gas, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and other volatile organic compounds will have various environmental impacts which have not been adequately addressed by the Bureau.

Smith notes, "This document has not made adequate provisions for multiple use or sustained yield from our public lands. Tourism and recreation employ as many San Juan county residents as the mining industry, and given adequate protection of our public lands, is far more sustainable." Unfortunately, the management plan clearly states that even the more moderate rate of oil and gas development proposed would "degrade the quality of the area for dispersed recreation."


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