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Forum to Focus on Fate of Otero 'Oasis,' New Mexico's Largest

April 19, 2007

Ranchers, conservationists, hunters and scientists are coming together to protect New Mexico's largest untapped fresh-water aquifer. They'll be speaking tonight in Alamogordo at a public forum on the Bureau of Land Management's plan to drill for oil and gas in Otero Mesa. They are concerned that drilling in the area could contaminate New Mexico's last oasis. Energy and economics expert William Brown says the large, freshwater aquifer is especially valuable given recent reports on global warming.

"Perpetual drought may become a fact of life for New Mexico as early as 2050. With that in mind, water needs to be placed ahead of natural gas."

Other speakers at tonight's forum will call for a moratorium on drilling in Otero Mesa so the aquifer can be studied and measured. Last fall, a federal judge ruled that the BLM's plan for drilling would protect the local environment, despite studies that show drilling could contaminate the aquifer. The state legislature recently allocated one million dollars to conduct a formal study of the aquifer.

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation's Oscar Simpson says energy development may come to Otero Mesa one day, he just wants to be sure all the facts are in first.

"If energy development can be accomplished without destroying the resources, both water and wildlife, then that may be decided. But right now, we think that's preliminary, and we need to find out how big this aquifer is and how to protect that."

He believes the current plan to drill in Otero Mesa would not protect its wildlife or water. The area is also home to one of the last wild Chihuahuan Desert grasslands, which is among the most biologically diverse desert ecosystems.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM