Moratorium on mesa?

From the Alamogordo Daily News

Domenici adds voice to support drilling restraint on Otero Mesa

By Michael Becker, Managing Editor

Sen. Pete Domenici joined the growing chorus of voices calling for a moratorium on natural gas drilling in Otero Mesa.

Domenici, R-N.M., said in a news release issued Wednesday that he has written to the Bureau of Land Management, asking that no drilling be allowed until a U.S. Geological Survey study of the Salt Basin aquifer is completed.

Domenici issued the statement after the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill Wednesday he co-sponsored with Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. It designates several areas in New Mexico, including Otero Mesa and the Tularosa Basin, that will be studied concerning the extent of groundwater resources available.

“We identify the Salt Basin as a priority aquifer to study, including an investigation of the susceptibility of the water to contamination,” Domenici said in the news release. “This sort of review would provide us with critical information on the possible effect of oil and gas development in the Otero Mesa on the Salt Basin aquifer.”

The bill authorizes an analysis of aquifers throughout New Mexico. It will look at the availability of groundwater, the salinity, the interaction between groundwater and surface water and will examine surface and bedrock geology.

A study in 2006 by USGS estimated that the Salt Basin may contain as much as 57 million acre feet of water, including 15 million that is potable. An acre foot is enough water to supply a family of four for an entire year.

“Ninety percent of New Mexicans rely on groundwater for their drinking water supply,” Bingaman said in the same news release. “Increasing demands on this limited resource means it’s critical for us to fully understand our aquifers.”

The effort is being backed by both environmentalists and sportsmen. At the same time the Senate committee was approving the bill, a joint effort between Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation was preparing to unveil their Sportsmen’s Public Lands Energy Agenda.

The groups will be holding a press conference on the agenda today in Washington, D.C. Among those participating will be Tim Turri of Alamogordo. Turri owns and operates Turri’s Sure Shot Outfitters, a big game hunting service that provides guided hunting services on public land, including Otero Mesa.

The agenda calls for a moratorium on all new oil and gas leases on public lands until plans are in place to protect wildlife habitat and water resources, among other measures.



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