Yesterday, New Mexico Wildlife Federation Director Jeremy Vesbach told SFR that State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons was planning to open up lands near the scenic but embattled White Peak area to oil and gas development.
Vesbach called it "a violation of [Lyons] January promise
not to lease the white's peak [sic] area" and illustrated his point with maps (after the jump).
Good thing he noticed. State Land Office spokeswoman Kristin Haase says Lyons didn't actually know
that the 20,000 acres in Mora and Colfax counties that were up for lease sale on June 15 included a 1,000-acre tract close to White Peak.
"Frankly, we're not really sure
how that [got] through, because the Commissioner has said he doesn't want to lease land in the vicinity of White Peak for oil and gas development," Haase tells SFR. "We're a little concerned about how that got through."
Haase says Lyons pulled leases for the 1,000 acres closest to White Peak "when as we found out." How'd they find out? Yesterday, from Vesbach,
who got a tip from Las Vegas resident Pat Leahan.
"We're concerned about the oil and gas industry, and we're concerned about the White Peak land swap," Leahan tells SFR. "That has a lot of us at the grassroots level keeping an eye on White Peak." When a colleague of Leahan's found the leases, she asked the Wildlife Federation for help in mapping out where they'd be. Here are the maps NMWF made:
Vesbach says he took the maps to the State Land Office:
...the SLO, after saying our maps were in error, we went back to them again and they now say that they may have put out those leases accidentally and may pull them from consideration. If so, that is good news, and we're glad we were able to catch the error before more of the White's Peak area was accidentally leased.
The problem, of course, is how an oil and gas lease in direct conflict with Lyons' January missive got through. In the meantime, though, the whole thing has become political.
Within a few hours of Vesbach's e-mail, Land Commissioner hopeful Ray Powell
(whom SFR endorsed
for the Democratic primary) had picked up the story, using it as a rallying cry
to return White Peak to the forefront of the Land Commissioner race.
Now that the Land Office has pulled the close-to-White-Peak leases, though, Haase says Powell's criticism is misplaced. "That area that we're leasing is not two miles away; it's 23 miles away.
Over the years we've leased nearly 16,000 acres that are 10 to 20 miles away, but apparently Powell only cares about what's going on in an election year."
Lyons, too, published a scathing article
to that effect—the title: "Ray Powell is wrong for New Mexico"—today on nmpolitics.net
. But such a misstep may only serve to reinforce Powell's point. Time (and next week's election!) will tell.
Updated 5:17 pm on Thurs., May 27:
The State Land Office has officially withdrawn
tracts near White Peak from the June 15 planned lease sale. Click here
for the release (pdf).