The idea made perfect sense.
Until 2008, oil and natural gas operators seeking to drill a well or build a lease road on federal land in southeast New Mexico were required to obtain an often redundant archaeological survey.
The process was slow, and it was as frustrating to the Bureau of Land Management as it was to the companies they regulate.
“We noticed that we were recording the same archaeological sites over and over,” said George MacDonell, associate manager of the BLM’s Carlsbad field office.
Thus came the solution that resulted in national acclaim for Devon, other companies, the BLM, New Mexico preservation officers and the Mescalero Apache Tribe. The Interior Secretary’s Partners in Conservation Award recognizes the entities that helped streamline the permitting process. Devon’s regulatory advisor for New Mexico, Vicky Sanchez, traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the award on behalf of our industry from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The new system works like this: Rather than paying a vendor to perform the mandatory archaeological survey, oil and natural gas companies now can pay a similar amount into a mitigation fund. The fund, administered by the BLM, pays for archaeological projects and research.
Energy companies benefit because the BLM provides a CD containing GIS information on all archaeological sites that must be avoided.
This dramatically speeds up the approval process.
Through September 2011, the fund had collected more than $3.3 million. About two-thirds of oil and gas operators use this voluntary method instead of the old system.
MacDonell said Devon — and Sanchez in particular — were “at the forefront” in lending support to the idea. “It took a few companies jumping on board early and demonstrating that this was worthwhile, and then other companies came on board,” he said.
Today, 35 oil and gas companies use this voluntary method of meeting the archaeological protection requirement for a 1.1-million-acre area in southeast New Mexico .
Previously, federal and state officials knew where most of the 10,000 archaeological sites in that area were located because previous surveys had uncovered them. However, there was no system in place to share that information with other companies, MacDonell said. The new system eliminates that duplication.
“Integrity is one of the most important of Devon’s core values and defines the core of every relationship we have,” Sanchez said. “It is very gratifying that the BLM has recognized Devon as a partner of choice in the industry.”