Taos, NM – Late yesterday, the Bureau of Land Management announced its decision to defer an oil and gas lease sale of 4,434.37 acres near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for consultation with Tribal and local leaders. The surprise move reflects an unprecedented wave of opposition to oil and gas extraction in Greater Chaco from Native individuals and groups, local advocates, landowners, and businesses. These groups, the Western Environmental Law Center among them, filed 459 administrative protests to the lease sale—the largest number ever for an oil and gas lease sale in New Mexico. In addition, New Mexico Sens. Udall and Heinrich as well as Reps. Lujan-Grisham and Luján have vocally opposed reckless oil and gas leasing in this area.
“Deferring these parcels was the right, and indeed only legally defensible decision,” said Kyle Tisdel, with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Necessary safeguards, analysis, and Tribal consultation must take place before we consider any further leasing and development of Greater Chaco’s treasured landscapes. Often lost in these discussions, just as industrial oil and gas extraction threatens Greater Chaco’s significant cultural and archaeological resources, it likewise harms the area’s living Native communities greatly and unjustly.”
The Western Environmental Law Center represents Navajo and local advocates in a lawsuit challenging BLM’s ongoing approval of leases in Greater Chaco using an 11-year-old management plan that explicitly omits analysis of horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking as “economically infeasible.” These practices are now the industry standard, and more than 90 percent of the Greater Chaco region is now leased for oil and gas extraction.
BLM itself describes the management plan as inadequate and is writing an amendment to address this shortcoming. This welcome lease sale deferral highlights the need for the agency to complete its resource management plan amendment before continuing to lease and authorize the development of any additional public lands for oil and gas in Greater Chaco.
“I encourage Sec. Zinke to take a hard look at the legal liabilities inherent in using an obsolete management plan to approve unstudied fracking in a sacred landscape,” said Tisdel. “With 90 percent of the landscape already leased, is it worth the risk to leap before we look in this sacred landscape, still home to so many?”