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Doing It Right

This ranch provides a model for public lands.

The 585,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico spans from the Great Plains to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The ranch and its surrounding landscape are known for their natural beauty, high-quality wildlife habitat, and status as a model for responsible energy development. While privately owned by Turner Enterprises, there are many lessons that lawmakers, the Bureau of Land Management, industry, other stakeholders and the public can learn from Vermejo, especially when looking to develop our energy resources responsibly on America’s public lands.

Vermejo is situated in some of the finest elk country in North America, near the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, with the Carson National Forest to the west and private land to the east. Between 8,000 and 10,000 elk live on the ranch, as do mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The property is primarily managed as a guest ranch where hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, Nordic skiing, horseback riding, and other activities are the primary uses. The ranch is known for trophy bulls and scenic vistas, and its business model depends on the area’s world-class natural amenities.

Vermejo is also rich with natural gas—972 producing coalbed methane wells are scattered across the ranch. To preserve the land’s character, wildlife habitat, and guest services, park managers and Atlas Resource
Partners, L.P., the energy company that owns the oil and gas rights, have established a Mineral Extraction Agreement.

“We have established a shared vision with an energy company that is focused on developing energy resources while protecting the world-class wildlife habitat and natural amenities of Vermejo,” says Gus Holm, Vermejo Park Ranch manager. “I hope that the lessons learned and examples set here can be applied to public lands where similar opportunities for responsible development exist.”

The goal is to develop and implement an approach for energy development on the ranch that both enables extraction and protects the ranch’s natural resources and amenities. This shared vision has shaped the model energy development project since 1998. Among the stipulations in the agreement and development plan between Atlas Resource Partners and Vermejo are:

  • About one-third of the property is closed to development to protect areas of special sensitivity.
  • There is a limit on the total number of wells and pads that can be producing at any one time, limiting the overall footprint for development.
  • Well spacing is limited to one well per 160 acres.
  • Impacts to the scenic views are minimized by siting wells carefully.
  • At the conclusion of the project, all surface features, wells, and compressors will be removed from the property.
  • A reclamation bond is required for an amount equal to 125 percent of Atlas Resource Partners’ total reclamation responsibilities.

Although privately-owned, lessons from this project can be applied across the West. Many areas of BLM land in states like Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah possess similarly important scenic and wildlife values, and they also hold rich reserves of oil and natural gas. If oil and gas development is proposed for landscapes where the wildlife and recreation values are high, sportsmen and women expect federal land management
agencies to work closely with stakeholders to find a shared vision. For this to happen, the BLM must do thorough upfront planning that plots a clear path for development to be balanced with other resources that are
equally important for the American public.

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