New drilling approved for New Mexico’s Otero Mesa

The Bureau of Land Management yesterday made the final decision to open nearly 2 million acres of Chihuahuan desert grassland in southern New Mexico to oil and gas drilling. The Bush administration insists that drilling in the area, known as Otero Mesa, won’t be a “free-for-all,” as the BLM’s plan calls for close management and environmental assessments before drilling begins, and also prohibits activity on some 124,000 acres in order to protect sensitive areas and provide habitat for the endangered Aplomado falcon. Stephen Capra of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance calls the agency’s environmental-protection efforts “window dressing.” He and other enviros say the plan didn’t take into account public opinion — more than 85 percent of those who commented on the plan favored a prohibition on drilling in the area. Says New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), “The state is going to fight this with everything we’ve got.”