We're starting to get a pretty good picture, now, of how the next four years will go.
Yesterday, the Department of the Interior announced that it will allow drilling on Otero Mesa in New Mexico. At least eighty-five percent of New Mexicans oppose it. Hunters and ranchers, conservationists and libertarians, Republicans and Democrats...a majority of all of them opposed the plan. And with good reason:
The plan...allows drilling a maximum of 141 exploratory wells and 84 producing wells on nearly 2 million acres of Chihuahuan grassland in southern New Mexico....In total, the plan prohibits drilling on 124,000 acres.In other words, the plan leaves only five percent of the land off limits to development.
Here's the ghastly part: Otero Mesa sits atop the largest untapped aquifer in New Mexico:
Conservative estimates show that without any recharge there is enough fresh potable water underlying Otero Mesa to serve a community of over 500,000 people for over fifty years.Drilling for oil involves pumping and contaminating that water, and the BLM's plan puts absolutely no limits on how much water developers can pump for their own purposes.
And here's the really ghastly part:
According to the BLM, about 100 wells have been drilled in the last century and two have produced oil or gas. The state BLM office rates Otero Mesa's production potential as low to moderate.So we have a choice: we can get enough water for 500,000 people for fifty years, or (if we're "lucky") enough oil for several days.
In drought-ridden New Mexico (and West Texas, which borders Otero), the water is actually worth far more than the oil, by any reasonable calculation. That doesn't matter, though, because the company that will develop Otero is the Harvey E. Yates Company, which has been a generous donor to George W. Bush and the Republican Party, and whose CEO is the former chairman of Mountain States Legal Foundation, a group of anti-environmental lawyers founded in 1976 by James Watt, where current Interior Secretary Gale Norton got her regrettable start...the very same Gale Norton, of course, whose Department of the Interior approved the drilling at Otero.
I suspect that the point of developing Otero is not making money, so much as demonstrating to "treehuggers" of all varieties that in the next four years, Bush's friends will do exactly as they please, and public opposition be damned.