In the wake of a federal appeals court win in May, a coalition today filed a new lawsuit and request for a restraining order (link will be added here when available) to defend the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico from illegal oil and gas drilling.
Today’s suit was filed in federal court by Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, Western Environmental Law Center, and the Sierra Club. The legal action targets the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of more than 250 oil and gas wells in northwestern New Mexico’s Farmington Field Office.
Many of these wells were authorized within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park and in close proximity to Navajo residents of the area. Today’s suit calls on a federal court to halt further development of these wells.
The suit targets BLM’s failure to account for and address the cumulative environmental and health impacts of Mancos Shale oil and gas extraction in the region, which has ramped up considerably in recent years.
Development of Mancos Shale oil and gas wells requires more water, releases more pollution, and poses more intensive environmental impacts than traditional oil and gas development. BLM expects thousands of Mancos shale wells will ultimately be developed in the region.
In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled BLM illegally approved dozens of new oil and gas wells in the Greater Chaco region. The court held the agency failed to properly account for, disclose, and address the cumulative environmental and health impacts of developing Mancos Shale wells in the region.
The Appeals Court’s ruling applied to oil and gas wells approved between 2010 and September 2016. Today’s suit aims to leverage the court’s precedent and targets BLM’s approval of wells between September 2016 and the present.
Today’s suit is accompanied by a motion for a temporary restraining order. The motion calls on the court to order a halt to further development of the wells at issue in the case.
This latest suit comes amid growing calls for BLM to enact a moratorium on new oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region. The Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors, and many others have urged a moratorium pending BLM’s completion of a new land management plan that accounts for the cumulative impacts of Mancos Shale development. In addition, legislation proposed by New Mexico’s U.S. Congressional delegation would prohibit new oil and gas development on federal lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
In the wake of the 10th Circuit’s ruling in May, groups intensified their calls for a timeout on new fracking in the Greater Chaco region. However, BLM continues to approve new wells, flouting the federal appeals court.
A ruling on the groups’ motion for a restraining order is expected within the month.
A copy of the complaint is available here.
“By not following the law, BLM is forcing us to waste a lot of resources,” said Mario Atencio, Torreon Chapter member and board member for Diné Citizens Against Ruining Ourur Environment. “Our communities are stressed, and BLM has yet to meaningfully consult with Tribes over the cumulative impacts of industrialized drilling across the landscape. So far, the agency has not acted in good faith with Tribal communities and has failed to follow through with required action, which is why Diné CARE has taken this firm stance.”
“BLM’s ongoing approval of fracking across Greater Chaco ignores 10th Circuit precedent while continuing to endanger the people and communities who call this sacred landscape home,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney with Western Environmental Law Center. “Rather than analyze the cumulative impacts of this development as the law demands, BLM has yet again prioritized industry profits over people and the environment.”
“Trump’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda continues to flout the law and Greater Chaco has yet to see relief from the onslaught of fracking despite previous court rulings, congressional support, and enormous public outcry,” said Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner with WildEarth Guardians. “Until this administration addresses the cumulative impacts of fracking, we’re bound back in court to hold the BLM accountable to doing its job.”
“The BLM continues to abrogate its responsibility to manage public land and blatantly fails to evaluate or plan for the consequences of oil and gas projects that have a significant impact on communities and landscapes,” said Mike Eisenfeld, Energy and Climate Program manager for San Juan Citizens Alliance.
“New Mexico’s state leaders, congressional delegation, and even Interior Secretary Bernhardt have all recognized the cultural significance of Greater Chaco and the need to protect it, and yet BLM is barreling ahead in its quest to sell off as much of this land to the fossil fuel industry as possible,” said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter organizer Miya King-Flaherty. “With today’s filing, we are continuing the fight to protect this place and the people who live there from the destructive effects of industrialized fracking.”