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Know the West

Valle Vidal Coalition gathers momentum


Even as new drill rigs tickle the boundaries of the Valle Vidal, the coalition opposing energy exploration in New Mexico’s Yellowstone gains strength.

In January, the Bureau of Land Management gave Houston-based El Paso Energy the go-ahead to drill 25 new coalbed methane wells on the Vermejo Park Ranch, private land adjacent to the Valle that already hosts more than 600 wells. The approvals outraged drilling opponents, because although the new wells could suck gas from underneath Carson National Forest, the agency did not solicit public input.

But the move may have helped bolster support for the Coalition for the Valle Vidal, a group of environmentalists, lawmakers and sportsmen trying to stop El Paso’s bid to drill on 40,000 acres of the high mountain basin (HCN, 3/01/04: Oil and gas drilling could oust elk — and Boy Scouts).

In February, the city of Albuquerque joined Santa Fe, Taos, and a dozen other communities in adopting a resolution opposing energy development in the Valle. Ninety-nine percent of public comments on the Forest Service’s forest plan amendment for the Valle opposed energy development — including a comment from Rep. Heather Wilson, R, a champion of the oil and gas industry. The coalition hopes to win backing for a bill, sponsored by New Mexico Democrats Rep. Tom Udall and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, that would ban drilling in the Valle.

The Forest Service says it will finish its forest plan amendment this fall.