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BLM OKs drilling near cave, sort of

  The Bureau of Land Management will allow a New Mexico company to drill for gas on federal land near Lechuguilla Cave, the deepest cave in the United States and part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park (HCN, 2/22/93). But Yates Petroleum says the strict criteria the agency established for the leases make it economically infeasible to drill. According to the Jan. 31 decision, the company must first move its well site 1,000 feet north of an initially proposed site to avoid hitting cave passages. The BLM will also establish a 6,000-acre cave-protection zone, where drilling can only take place directionally from outside the zone, and close the entire 8,300-acre area under study to future oil and gas leasing. "It's a good compromise," says Carlsbad Cavern Superintendent Frank Deckert. But Fred Yates, president of Yates Petroleum, says the decision amounts to a taking of his property. He told the Albuquerque Journal that the BLM should compensate him for lost revenue. Joe Incardine of the BLM disagrees. "He can drill up to three wells on his property," he says. "We don't feel that's a taking. We feel that's an approval." For a copy of the Record of Decision for the Dark Canyon Final Environmental Impact Statement, contact Joe Incardine of the BLM at 505/438-7404.