Saturday, September 26, 2009

Opera: Finances Led to Drilling--Albuquerque Journal North

by Polly Summar
staff reporter

front page September 26th 2009

The Santa Fe Opera's general director says financial obligations led the opera to lease mineral rights it owns on land north of Las Vegas, N.M., for oil and gas drilling.
Opera general director Charles MacKay signed a lease between the opera and J Bar Cane, Inc., in April, giving the company permission to drill on more than 26,000 acres in Mora and San Miguel counties. It was filed in Mora County last month.
"We had no recourse other than to sell or lease these rights in order to maximize their benefit to the Opera and to meet the organization's fiduciary obligations," MacKay said in a statement issued Friday.
MacKay said the opera received a bequest from a long-time donor in December 2002 that included a share in the mineral rights for the land. "We do not own the property itself, just a portion of the mineral rights," MacKay said in the statement.
John M. Richardson, who owns J Bar Cane, a petroleum land management firm based in Stanley, said Friday his company assembles drilling prospects for other companies. "We bought those leases for a client," said Richardson, adding that he can't reveal the client's name.
"As far as I know, they (the client) don't have any plans to do anything soon or we would have been involved to lay the groundwork for drilling locations," Richardson said.
Drilling plans in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Mora counties have provoked intense opposition in recent years over environmental concerns. The news that the opera had leased rights for drilling — first posted on the Internet on Thursday by the anti-drilling groups Drilling Santa Fe and Drilling Mora County — provoked quick reaction.
Johnny Micou with Drilling Santa Fe said Friday he'd received dozens of e-mails from people who are "appalled."
"Here we were with this huge public outcry (against drilling in the Galisteo Basin south of Santa Fe over the past two years) and then the Santa Fe Opera turns around and goes to a poor county and leases nearly 27,000 acres for mineral exploration and development," Micou said.
Micou said many who've e-mailed Drilling Santa Fe and who support or attend the opera "are saying they're going to boycott the opera."
He said there were no clauses in the lease agreement signed between the opera and J Bar Cane providing any environmental protections or restrictions on drilling methods.
Kathleen Dudley with Drilling Mora County, asked: "Why would an arts company, a revered company, knowingly sign leases that would degrade an agricultural county?"
Dudley said if MacKay had agreed to similar terms in Santa Fe County, "he would have been tarred and feathered."
A Texas company recently abandoned plans to drill south of Santa Fe amid a prolonged public outcry and a revised county ordinance that reiterated tough restrictions on where drilling can take place.
'Environmental commitment'
MacKay said in his statement that the opera "has a long tradition of environmental commitment," citing its $750,000 investment in a wastewater treatment plant that it operates jointly with Santa Fe County. The opera also has adopted "a wide-ranging program to re-use or recycle materials, including scenery and costumes, to the highest extent possible," the statement said.
MacKay said the donor of the mineral rights stipulated that the bequest be used to support the opera's apprentice programs. "The Opera strives to operate in a fiscally responsible manner, in keeping with its legal mandates as a not-for-profit organization, and to honor the wishes of its donors," MacKay said. As a result, he said, the Opera had to sell or lease the mineral rights.
Richardson said the land is located north of Las Vegas, N.M. Dudley said it's between N.M. 518 at Sapello and Interstate 25 at Watrous, in the vicinity of the communities of Los Alamos and Emplazado and Lake Isabelle, on the San Miguel and Mora County line. Dudley said there are four owners of the property.
The lease signed by MacKay says the opera is lessor for about 27,000 acres in San Miguel and Mora counties, although his statement released Friday says the donation to the opera was for mineral rights in Mora County. His statement didn't address the question of other owners raised by Dudley.