Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke postponed an oil and gas lease sale scheduled for Thursday on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in northwest New Mexico.
The area up for lease -- located near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, in the Four Corners area -- was slated to include 25 parcels covering 4,434 acres in three counties, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and San Juan. The sale was to be conducted from BLM's field office in Farmington, NM.
Last Thursday, the DOI said the sale was being postponed to ensure the federal government was acting as a "good neighbor and building trust with tribal governments," which has been a priority under Zinke and the Trump administration.
Three years ago, the Navajo Nation and environmental groups unsuccessfully sued to stop oil and gas companies from exploring federal lands near Chaco.
Zinke said the BLM will complete an ongoing analysis of more than 5,000 cultural sites in the proposed leasing area. He based his decision after hearing from various tribes, Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), historic preservation experts, and other stakeholders.
"I've always said there are places where it is appropriate to develop and where it's not," Zinke said, noting that the area in question deserves more study.
The acreage up for lease includes privately-owned parcels (2,033 acres), BLM-managed lands (1,031 acres), and tribal trust lands (1,370 acres).
New Mexico's Acting State BLM Director Aden Seidlitz said his agency was continuing to work with consulting parties that include tribal and state government representatives, along with other federal agencies, in furthering the analysis of the impacts on the area from future oil and gas activities.
Even before the postponement, BLM has been working with parties under the federal Historic Preservation Act on all of the proposed parcels set for leasing. Seidlitz said the parcels will be cleared for leasing only after the BLM completes its analysis.
Last month, Trump administration officials said preliminary proceeds from BLM oil and natural gas lease sales conducted in 2017 totaled $360 million, an 86% increase over 2016's total of $192.5 million. Among those totals, New Mexico sales led the nation, as interest in the Permian Basin acreage exploded, hitting $130.9 million in bonus bids.
BLM auctioned online the rights to 949 parcels on federal land covering 792,823 acres, resulting in the highest sales total in nearly a decade. The highest grossing year previously was 2008, when bonus bids exceeded $408 million.