Our Efforts to Protect Our Waters

On December 10th I was fortunate to be soaking at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs on the one day each year that the Tibetan Monks hold their ceremony and blessing for the waters. It was a unique opportunity to drop out of the endless news cycle and middle-of-the-night concern for the state of the environment and just sink into a timeless tradition that offers such beauty and solace. The monks are in their red robes, standing by the iron pool in the winter light and chanting in deep, otherworldly tones. Playing sonorous golden horns and waving a fan of peacock feathers they intoned the blessing. Those of us soaking in the springs felt blessed as well. Yes, our waters need to blessed, especially now. And I was reminded why I do this work. 

On we go.

There are 7 parcels for lease sale in the May 2020 Oil and Gas lease sale, none of which are in the Rio Chama Watershed.

While we are all getting a break from oil and gas leasing in the Rio Chama Watershed and all the work that it entails, RACC is taking as many opportunities as possible to make sure your voices (nearly 200 strong!) continue to be heard on issues involving the protection of our waters. 

Since our last newsletter we have signed on as an organization in support of a Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) Scoping Comment letter to the BLM regarding the upcoming May 2020 Oil and Gas lease sale. This letter asks the BLM to fulfill the goals of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and “analyze the “effects”, or impacts of their actions on the human environment prior to undertaking their actions.” The BLM has cut down the time period allotted for scoping comments and protests from 30 days to 10. The letter also includes a request for Climate Change Mitigation alternatives among other things.

RACC also signed onto a letter from the Sierra Club to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Dept. requesting a “consistency review” of the upcoming Resource Management Plan. The letter states that “BLM’s plans will undermine New Mexico’s hard work to implement the Governor’s Executive order (EO) on climate change, 019-003.” It also requests that the Governor advance climate progress for New Mexico and “ensure that climate costs, including social cost of carbon, are accounted for.”

We also sent separate letters from RACC to the Governor regarding our concerns about the re-use of frack water in the state as well as a letter to the Carson National Forest regarding the Forest Plan Revision.

Your Protest Letters and BLM Rule Changes

If you participated in RACC’s last protest letter writing campaign regarding the December 5-6, 2018 Oil and Gas lease sale you probably received a certified letter in the mail stating that your protest was “dismissed”. 

According to a recent response from Becky Hunt of the BLM, “when the BLM provides an opportunity for public participation during its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis and decision making process, a party may raise only those issues it raised in its prior participation or issues that arose after the close of the opportunity for such participation. The “prior participation” they are referring to is the scoping process that takes place 4-5 months before the public comment period. In other words, if you do not submit comments during the earlier NEPA process you are disqualified from submitting comments during the public protest period.

We have recently learned that in January of 2018 there was an “internal memo” put forth by BLM headquarters regarding the handling of protest letters. According to our source, each BLM field office is now allowed to make a determination as to what level of public involvement they feel is appropriate for NEPA compliance. This internal memo, to our knowledge, was never formally announced to the public.

If you think this is confusing, it is. The point of confusion seems, in our opinion, to be intentionally put forth by the BLM with the goal of gumming up the works and discouraging participation. 

Keep in mind that the protest letter campaigns have a value beyond the issue of BLM bureaucracy and governmental policy changes regarding the technical acceptance of our letters. Do not be discouraged. Other organizations in New Mexico submitted hundreds of protest letters, also “dismissed”. It has been duly noted by the press that there is an organized movement to protect the Rio Chama Watershed.

We are working on a strategy to handle future oil and gas lease sales in our watershed. We’ll keep you posted.

Frack Water Recycle Update

RACC recently sent Governor Grisham a letter of concern regarding the state’s plans to research and implement the reuse of fracking fluid or “produced” water, in oil and gas lingo. Our intention was to give voice to our organizations concerns regarding this idea.

Five public meetings were recently held throughout the state by the New Mexico Environment Department and now the newly formed New Mexico Produced Water Research Consortium will begin to work in earnest to research the potential for the reuse of produced water in New Mexico, not only in a closed loop scenario within the oil and gas industry, but also for use in applications outside industry like mineral recovery and the irrigation of New Mexico food crops.

Something RACC has always been concerned with from a public health perspective is the fact that the Oil and Gas Industry have historically held proprietary formulas of many toxic chemicals that are used for their fracking operations. The question is, will the New Mexico Environment Department be privy to this information which varies by company, so it can insure those chemicals are completely removed from the produced water before reuse. And how do we know that regulation will be managed responsibly? Where are NMED support or standards for treatment going to come from?

You can read a December 3, 2019 article about this ongoing process from The New Mexico Political Report here.

Healthy Soil Education!

We have been keeping in touch with the implementation of The Healthy Soil Act, which RACC supported during the last legislative session at the Round House. They are now introducing the second round of the Healthy Soil Program funding which will target education and outreach projects that further soil health stewardship.

The deadline for NMDA to receive healthy soil education and outreach grant proposals is Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 at 5pm. You or your organization may be eligible!!

For more information you can access the New Mexico Department of Agriculture Healthy Soil Program website here.

“Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.”



Thank you for all you continue to do to protect the Rio Chama Watershed!