Monday, April 25, 2011

Cattle vs. Conoco: How Gas Fields are Crowding out New Mexico Ranchers

March 24th, 2011
Blanco, New Mexico.

Chris Velasquez sees the impacts of gas development in the San Juan Basin of northern New Mexico through the eyes of a rancher, and those of a man whose roots in this country pre-date both the gas rigs and the arrival of Anglos.

He and his dad ran cattle, until recently, on a grazing allotment called the Rosa, rolling high desert lands punctuated by bluffs and arroyos, ringed by mesas, adjacent to the Carson National Forest on the east, the Southern Ute reservation to the north, and bordered on the west by Navajo Lake. In a way, it’s what’s left of Velasquez’ ancestral homeland. “We used to live where the Pine River and the San Juan meet up here, then when they built the lake, it either was drown or move,” he says. In 1962, the Bureau of Reclamation completed a dam stretching three-quarters of a mile across the San Juan River. The idea was to control flooding and provide irrigation water for the Navajo tribe. It also displaced Velasquez’ community. “All my ancestor’s on my mom’s side, well on my dad’s side too, came from right up here,” he says. “My grandpa and my grandma on my mom’s side, they were the second farm below the dam. They got chased out too. From right here on, all the people who lived here—they were all Spanish people—relocated. Threw them to the four winds. Scattered them all over the place.”

The Velasquez family wasn’t blown far: his dad bought a place near Blanco, New Mexico, the nearest town with a name, a short drive west and south of their former home.  The entire clan now lives and ranches on about 320 acres they share with 17 gas wells. “My dad’s the one that started the ranch, but we’ve always had animals,” he says. It was the former owners who sold the mineral rights back in the 1930s or 40s. “So they’ve been after this area for a long time,” he says. “They’ve been hammering it, it didn’t happen overnight. They had a vision for it.”.....continued..