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Blowout: Inside America's energy gamble

Drilling overwhelms agency protecting America’s lands

The Bureau of Land Management is making it easier to produce oil and gas on federal acreage. In southeastern New Mexico, it can’t even keep up with what’s already happening.

A flare burns on May 24, 2018, atop a drill pad on land near Carlsbad, N.M., that Wayne Smith leased for ranching before his death in October. The development covered seven times more acreage than the Bureau of Land Management said would be used, Smith said in May.

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Wayne Smith (foreground) and business partner J.W. Todd, pictured on May 24, 2018, have objected to the way the federal government manages oil production on public land that ranchers also lease in southeastern New Mexico.

The once-in-a-generation opportunity

Public land near Carlsbad, N.M., is cleared for oil and gas development on May 24, 2018. Wayne Smith, who leased it for ranching before his death in October, said he never received notification of the construction there.
George Veni, executive director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute, stands above a stream that flows out of Parks Ranch Cave near Carlsbad, N.M., on May 23, 2018. The cave is an example of karst, a porous limestone.
Workers repair oil and gas equipment on public land near Carlsbad, N.M., on May 24, 2018.

A helping hand

Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s Big Room, eerie and otherworldly, on Dec. 18, 2010. National Park Service staffers worry that pollution from oil and gas production will harm native plants and wildlife at the park, which includes 33,000 acres of wilderness.

Struggling to adjust

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