Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Thursday unveiled a draft secretarial order aimed at ending the long-standing conflict between the oil and natural gas industry and potash companies within the Secretary's Potash Area (SPA) in Southeast New Mexico.

An agreement leading up to the draft secretarial order required an "unprecedented level of cooperation" and proposes buffer zones between oil and gas wells and potash mining operations that are designed to provide added protection to the resources, Salazar said during a briefing with reporters in Albuquerque, NM.

"The plan itself sets forth what are essentially drilling areas and drilling zones and development areas" for both oil and gas and potash, which is a mined salt that contains potassium and is used in fertilizers. It "seeks to preserve the potash reserves and their development and promote the development of oil and gas resources in the region," he said.

The order attempts to end a decades-long dispute between oil and gas developers and potash interests over certain leasing opportunities on public lands in Southeast New Mexico. The draft order will be published in the Federal Register and open to a 30-day comment period beginning Friday (July 13). Salazar signaled that Interior will likely issue a final rule in either September or October.

"This conflict between potash companies and the oil and gas industry in this part of our state has existed for many decades," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He participated in the briefing by telephone. The draft order "allows us to avoid any further litigation...This is a good result," he said.

The SPA contains deposits of both potash and oil and gas on more than 400,000 acres of land, most of which is managed by Interior's Bureau of Land Management. The SPA currently produces 75% of the potash mined in the United States and is also home to nearly 800 federal oil and gas leases.

The draft order is available for review at www.blm.gov/nm.

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