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  The Gauntlet

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Pipeline controversy

—Ty Belknap

Recent nationwide opposition to cross-country petroleum pipelines has encouraged local pipeline safety advocates to push pipeline companies to move the lines in order to safeguard the Placitas community from disaster.

Thousands of people marched all across the country on November 15, in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s and its allies in fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is designed to cross the Missouri River in North Dakota. Protesters have been demonstrating against the Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access oil pipeline since September 9. Tribal members have maintained that the pipeline's proposed route cuts across sacred land, including ancestral burial sites. An oil spill would also pose a risk to their drinking water, the Missouri River, on which they and millions of others rely.

The 1,170-mile pipeline was moved from its original route near urban Bismarck after citizens raised concerns about their own water safety. It was then moved closer to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. There is talk of moving the pipelines even further downstream, despite resistance from Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners.

Dwight Patterson of Las Placitas Association advocates moving our own pipeline corridors out of the most vulnerable parts of Placitas in order to reduce the threat to public safety and the environment. He says that a sixty-year old pipeline, running through the heart of Placitas, is now flowing 4.2 million gallons per day of crude oil at the maximum pressure of 800 pounds per square inch. He says that three pipelines, eight feet apart, exposed to flash floods in Las Huertas Creek—two flowing 14 million gallons per day of liquefied natural gas each at 1500 psi, and the other flowing ten million gallons per day of gasoline. Rupture of any of these lines could be catastrophic.

The pipeline industry has not been responsive to public opposition but maybe things are beginning to change; opposition stopped the Keystone XL Pipeline. Last month the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delayed the granting of an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The number of people fighting it continues to grow.

For more information on the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, google Dakota Access Pipeline. For more on Placitas pipelines, visit

re: Court allows continued intensive, unstudied fracking in Greater Chaco—Northwest New Mexico oil drilling will continue despite risks to communities, cultural resources, and environment

Hopes for a respite from a fracking boom plaguing Navajo and public lands in New Mexico’s Greater Chaco area were thwarted Thursday when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's decision to deny a temporary halt to drilling until a full decision on the merits can be reached. Despite the lack of environmental review or a comprehensive plan for fracking in the area, the Bureau of Land Management will be allowed to continue to grant hundreds or even thousands of new permits to drill and frack the area. The larger court case concerning the unstudied fracking in Greater Chaco will continue at the District Court level.

BLM has never studied the impacts of modern fracking on local communities, the area’s unparalleled cultural history, or to air, water, or the climate. To address this shortcoming, a coalition of Navajo and environmental groups requested a preliminary injunction to put a stop to the drilling, which they contend violates the National Environmental Policy Act. While that request was denied, Navajo and environmental organizations will engage in BLM's ongoing planning process, continue challenging oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco area and will increase oversight of individual oil and gas projects proposed by BLM. The Tenth Circuit's decision also points to serious flaws in the legal framework governing public lands oil and gas development, suggesting a need for a comprehensive review of the program to ensure it protects public lands and communities.

The Greater Chaco area is home to Navajo and other communities living amid extensive new oil and gas development that threatens their way of life, including a recent well explosion that caused the emergency evacuation of area residents. The area is also home to one of the country’s most important archeological sites, Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Extensive ancestral Puebloan ruins throughout the landscape make this the ancient cultural heart of the American Southwest.

"The court agreed with BLM's 'magic numbers' argument that the total number of wells drilled haven't exceeded what was generally predicted in the 2003 RMP—despite the fact that the impacts of modern fracking has never been studied," said Kyle Tisdel, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. "The reality is, new fracking technology has lead to landscape level impacts that were never analyzed, to say nothing of the daily harm local residents are forced to endure, including well explosions and the largest methane hot spot in the nation which continue to plague Greater Chaco."

"In spite of the setback, we're certainly not going to be letting up in pressing the Interior Department to exercise restraint in this region," said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians. "Especially with their announcement last week acknowledging the need to address the concerns of Navajo community members and Chapters in the face of this unprecedented oil and gas development, there is every reason for Interior to call a time out on new leasing and fracking approvals. They may have won this court ruling, but if they're interested in winning integrity and public trust, and demonstrating genuine care and consideration over the impacts of fracking to tribal interests, clean air, and climate in the region, they need to step up."

“The court’s decision gives great deference to the BLM in portraying that public lands are being adequately managed,” said Mike Eisenfeld, Energy and Climate Program Manager of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “BLM is creating conflict by recklessly approving hundreds of new oil projects with cursory, boilerplate oversight. We will ramp up our effort to address this injustice.”

“The Chaco region contains one of America’s archeological gems," said Anne Hawke with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "More than ninety percent of the BLM lands there are already leased for oil and gas development. To allow more leasing or drilling would threaten its air quality, drinking water sources, priceless cultural sites, and vulnerable communities. Instead, we need to vigorously protect what is left.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and Natural Resources Defense Council. Attorneys from the Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians represent the groups.

—Kyle Tisdel, Western Environmental Law Center, Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council

re: Terry Tempest Williams and Brooke Williams statement on Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease purchase rejection

On October 18, 2016, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rejected our offers for oil and gas leases made by Tempest Exploration Company, LLC at the agency’s quarterly lease sale in Utah last February.

We are disappointed in the agency’s decision to hold us to a different standard than other lessees. The agency claims that it cannot issue the leases because we did not commit to developing them. The BLM has never demanded that a lease applicant promise to develop the lease before it was issued. In fact, a great many lessees maintain their leases undeveloped for decades, thereby blocking other important uses of the lands such as conservation and recreation.

Tempest Exploration Company met all the legal requirements of the leasing process. We bid on two leases for which there was no other bidder, so as not to prevent another party from acquiring a selected lease parcel. We paid the required fees. We have consistently stated that we would comply with the law and regulations governing management of the leases. We have made clear to the BLM that we would consider developing our leases when science supports a sustainable use of the oil and gas at an increased value given the costs of climate change to future generations. This is the same approach used by oil and gas companies that routinely base their exploration and development decisions on the price of oil and other market factors and often hold their leases for years without drilling.

Currently, there are about twenty million acres of public land under lease that are not being developed for oil and gas. The BLM has “suspended” many of these leases, meaning that the lessees no longer pay rent on them, although they continue to control the land. The BLM has been willing to extend these undeveloped leases in perpetuity, yet the agency put our bids under a microscope. The BLM’s decision to reject our lease bids highlights the agency’s misdirected and antiquated approach to fossil fuels, illuminating their fidelity to the oil and gas industry while willfully ignoring the urgency—in an era of climate change—of more enlightened management of the public lands that belong to the American people.

We are evaluating our legal options to challenge the BLM’s decision, including filing an administrative appeal with the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals.

—Terry Tempest Williams and Brooke Williams, Castle Valley, Utah

New Mexico Environment Department Acts to Hold Harvest Gold Water System Accountable in Providing Clean and Safe Drinking Water

—Allison Scott Majure, Communications Director, New Mexico Environment Department

In September, 2016, the New Mexico Environment Department issued an emergency order penalizing the Animas Valley Land and Water Company, operator of the Harvest Gold Drinking Water System of San Juan County, as a result of their lack of progress in restoring access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water for users. The Department’s emergency order calls on Harvest Gold to bring their system back into compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, and imposes $1,000 in penalties on the operators for every day not in compliance.

“All New Mexicans need and deserve access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water,” said Environment Department Cabinet Secretary Butch Tongate. “Harvest Gold’s continued intransigence in restoring their water system’s Safe Drinking Water Act compliance is unacceptable. The Department will continue to hold Harvest Gold accountable, as well as doing all we can to ensure that the more than 500 users are as informed as possible.”

The Emergency Order imposes $1,000 per day penalties for each directive that is not accomplished promptly, by the deadlines set. The Emergency Order requires Harvest Gold to act promptly to execute tasks critical to providing safe drinking water to all 522 customers in San Juan County, including an interconnection with the City of Bloomfield’s water system. Harvest Gold is also required to provide customer notification and communication in an effective and timely manner or daily penalties will also be imposed.

 In addition to this emergency order, the Environment Department continues to work to hold Harvest Gold accountable for 15 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act from earlier this summer, for which the system’s operators owe $676,000 in penalties.

 New Mexico’s Environment Department continues working in coordination with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, the County of San Juan, and the City of Bloomfield.  These organizations have stepped up to help provide both a temporary and a permanent solution to the water issues facing Harvest Gold customers.

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