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Agency in Charge of Protecting Public Lands Overwhelmed by the Drilling Boom

Top photo: A pump jack operates in Carlsbad, N.M. Photo: Robin Zielinski for the Center for Public Integrity

In our latest Trump on Earth podcast, host Reid Frazier finds out what President Trump’s ‘energy dominance’ policy looks like on the ground in New Mexico with guest, Rachel Leven, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity.

Leven spent time in one of the hottest drilling spots in North America and wrote an exposé about what happens when drilling overwhelms the agency tasked with protecting America’s lands.

LISTEN the podcast:

President Trump’s push drill for oil and gas on public lands has hit some snags lately. A federal court recently halted leasing on 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming after the court ruled the administration hadn’t adequately considered climate change on its decision to lease the land.

And late last week, a federal judge ruled Trump’s efforts to lift an Obama-era ban on drilling in the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans was unlawful. But despite this, companies are racing to drill on America’s public land.

One hotspot is the Permian Basin in Southeast New Mexico, home to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the Chihuahuan Desert and lots of oil and gas.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the agency in charge of regulating the oil and gas industry on public lands, but Leven says BLM simply doesn’t have the resources to police the industry. When she went to the Permian Basin to learn more about the situation, Leven says she found lots and lots of chaos:

“One of the most powerful moments for me was when one of the ranchers pointed to this development on this large swath of land that he also leases for ranching cattle on, and he said, “we’re supposed to be notified before this kind of development occurs,”” said Levin. “There was all of this development already in front of me. There were tanks; there was a big water pit going in. And he still hadn’t been notified…There is a real difficulty in keeping up with even the administrative parts of those tasks of managing it.”

Leven says this field office in New Mexico simply can’t keep up with the demand and they don’t have the resources to enforce the rules already on the books:

“So basically that means that people could be not metering appropriately on how much oil and gas they’re actually taking up out of the ground, which affects how much money they pay the federal government; or they could be not adequately or quickly enough reclaiming that land,” said Leven. “People who live there say they have no one who can stand up for them and make sure that things are done in a way that protects their businesses like ranching or like hunting.”