FARMINGTON — Officials with the State Land Office in New Mexico acknowledge that only a small percentage of the millions of acres of trust land managed by the agency has been surveyed for cultural resources.
The office is drafting a policy to change that.
The Farmington Daily Times reports the new policy could require companies to do archaeological surveys before developing a lease.
State Land Office Archaeologist David Eck told members of the Chaco Canyon Land Office Working Group during a recent meeting that lessees currently are required to review records to determine what is already known to exist in the areas the project will impact.
If the lessee, such as an oil or gas company, damages a cultural resource, the lessee could be fined.
In the 20 years he has worked for the Land Office, Eck said there have been fewer than 10 lessees fined for damages to cultural sites.
Eck said the agency needs to know what cultural resources are on state land to appropriately manage the land.
“In very general terms, basically we don’t know what’s out there because very little of state trust land has ever been surveyed in any systematic way,” he said. “So it’s essentially a blank slate.”
The working group plans to continue discussions about archaeological and cultural sites on state trust land, especially land around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. This will be one of the topics during a meeting in June.
New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre criticized the land office for not including oil and gas producers or industry representatives in the working group.
McEntyre said the group could benefit from hearing about how producers are working to mitigate impacts to cultural resources.
He said it would be “reckless and irresponsible” for the land office not to engage with the industry on policy issues while taking input from environmental groups.
The working group was assembled to recommend alternative land uses near Chaco park and to provide input on oil and gas leasing policies the agency could implement in the area.
The working group was created when Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard signed an executive order in April placing a moratorium on oil and gas leases within a 10-mile buffer around the park.
Garcia Richard said she’s required to manage the lands in a way that generates revenue for the state.
“If we’re not going to lease these lands for oil and gas, we have to do something with them,” she said.
Information from: The Daily Times, http://www.daily-times.com