Unified Action – March 2007 – A Moratorium for Otero Mesa

Ask Senator Bingaman to sponsor a moratorium for Otero Mesa

Sponsored by Southwest Environmental Center
Contact person: Cathilia Flores

What we are asking

Call Senator Bingaman (202-224-5521) and urge him to sponsor a 3-year moratorium on leasing and drilling on Otero Mesa.

Key reasons

    • Research indicates there is not a significant amount of natural gas under Otero Mesa (only enough for about 16 days of use).
    • The Salt Basin aquifer is a potentially significant resource for NM (an estimated 15 million acre feet) and its integrity should not be damaged by needless drilling.
    • There is no reason to threaten the last of our precious Chihuahuan grasslands.

Upon completion of this action, please send an “I did it” to unifiedaction@pva-nm.org

The Issue

Located north of the Texas border, between the Hueco and Guadalupe Mountains, Otero Mesa is a prime example of the biological richness of Chihuahuan Desert grassland. Its diverse plant life, including vast areas of rare black grama grass, supports New Mexico’s healthiest herd of pronghorn antelope, as well as numerous prairie dog colonies, burrowing owls, and mule deer. The area has been identified as critical habitat for migratory bird species from pipits and sparrows to hawks and other raptors. There are well documented recent sightings of endangered Aplomado falcons on the Mesa, a sign that the birds might be naturally recolonizing the area. The Mesa has also been suggested as a recovery area for endangered bighorn sheep.

Not only is Otero Mesa critically important for its unique desert grasslands and wildlife, it also sits atop the largest untapped source of water in New Mexico—a potentially extremely important resource for southern NM communities.

Otero Mesa and its Salt Basin aquifer are at risk of being destroyed by drilling for natural gas. While studies have indicated there is only a 16-day supply of natural gas contained under the Mesa, oil and gas interests insist on ecologically damaging exploration.

A state and federally funded 3-year hydrologic study will be underway soon to understand the Salt Basin aquifer located in the Otero Mesa region. There are more than 57 million acre-feet of ground water in the Basin and an estimated 15 million acre-feet which is recoverable and potable. However, a recent preliminary study indicates the aquifer is vulnerable to the introduction of contaminants. We need to fully understand this aquifer and its potential benefits to New Mexico before any more drilling threatens to contaminate it or destroy precious and unique habitat.

Because of the upcoming study, it is critical that we protect the aquifer and grasslands throughout the study’s completion. It is critical that Congress act now.