Farmington, NM—Despite revelations that a senior agency official in New Mexico accepted industry gifts while overseeing one of the largest increases in oil and gas drilling, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey have ignored calls to investigate Steve Henke and the ethics of the BLM in New Mexico.
Henke, the former BLM Farmington Field Manager, was abruptly hired as President of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association this summer immediately after resigning from BLM. As Farmington Field Manager, Steve Henke oversaw one of the most significant increases in oil and gas drilling experienced by any other BLM office, authorizing the drilling of more than 10,000 new oil and gas wells. The Farmington Field Office was specifically criticized by the Government Accountability Office for fast-tracking drilling permits at the expense of environmental oversight.
“Henke took gifts from natural gas industry prohibited sources while overseeing one of the largest increases in oil and gas drilling of any BLM office, skirted environmental oversight, and now is the top oil and gas industry lobbyist in New Mexico. Documented unethical behavior suggests a culture of impropriety that has been allowed to fester in the BLM in New Mexico,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The Interior Department’s silence on this matter speaks volumes to their actual commitment to restoring public trust of the nation’s onshore oil and gas drilling program. We have significant concerns that decisions made by the BLM to expedite natural gas drilling in the region have been less than fair, and in some cases, appear illegal.”
“America needs new leadership to solve the problem of Interior Department managers who are supposed to protect public resources, but instead are in bed with the oil lobby,” said Daniel Patterson, Southwest Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “Secretary Salazar should know that conflicts of interest are not limited to his offshore drilling program.” Patterson formerly worked with BLM.
In a letter sent today to Interior Secretary Salazar and BLM Director Abbey, groups today renewed their call for an investigation into Henke’s decisions regarding oil and gas development. The call comes on the heels of a July letter sent by the groups that called on the officials to launch an investigation and to bar the BLM from interacting with Henke for at least two years. Since that letter was sent, the groups have received no response from either the BLM or Interior.
In the meantime, an Office of Inspector General report was released that found Henke took industry gifts, falsified expense reports, and solicited donations from the industry while heading the Farmington Field Office.
“This takes trust in the BLM to a new low,” said Lori Goodman of Diné Citizens against Ruining our Environment. “Given that Steve Henke, as Farmington Field Manager, was also responsible for protecting tribal interests, this is a slap in the face to those of us who have been working to instill balance in energy development in the region. Shame on Salazar for turning a blind eye to this crisis of confidence.”
“Salazar may be a new sheriff, but it’s the same old business as usual in New Mexico,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director with WildEarth Guardians. “The apparent tolerance of Henke’s behavior just shows that the revolving door between industry and government is alive and well.”
The groups are calling for a complete independent investigation of onshore oil and gas activities of the BLM Farmington Field Office and the BLM New Mexico State Office.