A voicemail from a Bureau of Land Management project manager announcing the deferral of a 2,122-acre oil and gas lease sale on sacred land near Chaco Canyon prompted environmental groups on Tuesday to send out a news release lauding the decision.
However, the celebration was short-lived, as hours later, BLM officials admitted an internal error.
A coalition of local conservation groups released a statement entitled “BLM Defers Fracking Around New Mexico’s Sacred Chaco Canyon for Third Time,” in which representatives praised the federal agency for putting off what they called a potential detriment to a “treasured landscape.”
“Deferring these parcels was the right, and indeed the only legally defensible decision,” Kyle Tisdel, an attorney for Western Environmental Law Center said in a prepared statement.
However, when The Durango Herald called the BLM office in Farmington, New Mexico, to confirm the delayed federal mineral sale, representatives were caught off guard.
“We have not made a decision,” said spokeswoman Donna Hummel. “I’m not sure where that came from.”
The San Juan Citizens Alliance’s Mike Eisenfeld told the Herald a BLM project manager in Farmington left a voicemail late last week, divulging the information.
“The decision was made Friday to defer the three potential leases for the October sale until a later date,” the project manager said in a voicemail recorded by Eisenfeld.
Hummel said confusion among new staff members led to the mix up.
“One of the things we’re always asking our project leaders and managers to do is reach out and be as transparent as possible,” she said. “In this case, it appears that a discussion at a meeting was perceived to be a decision. It’s unfortunate, and I totally understand if they have a voicemail saying it’s a done deal, but we need to accept that it was a mistake.”
Hummel said the agency has until May 5 to determine whether to postpone or go on with the October sale, and as of Tuesday, no formal decision has been made. She said news release will be sent when a decision is formalized.