Commentary: The Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) finalized a decision today not to allow the Jemez Ranger District to be leased for geothermal development. In May of 2015, the SFNF began considering a proposal to lease approximately 195,000 acres for geothermal production. The proposal stemmed from an Expression of Interest submitted by an out-of-state company.
In addition to containing portions of nine critical Inventoried Roadless Areas, the area under consideration for development is home to endangered species like the Mexican spotted owl, the Jemez Mountains salamander, and the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. Many sacred indigenous sites and hot springs are found in the proposed geothermal leasing area, and its adjacency to the Valles Caldera National Preserve provides an extended continuous landscape for the Preserve’s ecosystem health. The nearby community of Jemez Springs is vulnerable to impacts from geothermal development, including increased truck traffic, water contamination, negative effects on tourism, and other damage to the quality of life for residents. New Mexico Wild believes significant portions of the proposal area may also qualify for wilderness designation. The proposal area is in one of New Mexico’s most heavily-visited recreation sites, including well-known attractions like Battleship Rock, Soda Dam, and Las Conchas fishing access area.
Geothermal production often comes with substantial environmental consequences. Significant surface disturbance is required for well-pads and pumps (similar to those used in oil and gas operations), roads, transmission lines and pipelines. Additionally, fresh water is required, and fracking is often used.
New Mexico Wild believes that these activities must be sited in appropriate places and must include enough restrictions to effectively mitigate the potential harm from the activity. We did not believe development in this sensitive area was appropriate or compatible with its high level of recreational use. Evidence also indicates that geothermal development in the Jemez would yield an extremely small amount of energy.
New Mexico Wild submitted technical comments and hosted a meeting with USFS officials and the public in Albuquerque. The USFS received over 900 public comments in support of the “No Leasing Alternative,” and none in support of leasing the Jemez for geothermal.
“We are thrilled that the Santa Fe National Forest has listened to the unanimous voice of New Mexicans, who do not want this beloved place to be irreparably damaged,” said Judy Calman, Staff Attorney for New Mexico Wild. “The Jemez is deeply special to countless residents and visitors who love its hot springs, rivers, wildlife, fishing spots, hiking trails, hunting opportunities, waterfalls, and campgrounds. It is not a place that should be risked for an uncertain and likely miniscule financial gain.”
“We thank the SFNF Supervisor for weighing the evidence and ultimately making the correct decision,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “This outcome is a direct result of New Mexicans standing together to say with a collective voice that this area is too special to be harmed. We are particularly grateful for the leadership demonstrated by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, which opposed this development proposal.”
New Mexico Wild is a statewide, independent, grassroots non-profit 501 (C)(3), advocacy organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. www.nmwild.org