Rampant drilling in the San Juan Basin continues to threaten public health, cultural resources, climate, and clean air and water.

Santa Fe, NM

A coalition of local and regional watchdog groups supports the Bureau of Land Management’s recent decision to defer leasing five Navajo allotment parcels (2,802.56 acres) for fracking near Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site. BLM’s decision, announced on December 30, 2014, came after the groups filed a protest challenging the lease sale, and separately called on the agency to suspend fracking on public lands in northwestern New Mexico until the agency can safeguard the public health of local communities, climate, clean air and water, and the region’s unique cultural heritage.

“Deferring these parcels was the right, and, indeed, only legally defensible decision,” said Kyle Tisdel, Attorney and Climate & Energy Program Director for Western Environmental Law Center. “Necessary safeguards and analysis must be completed before any further leasing and development of the areas treasured landscapes can continue in compliance with the law.”

In a letter to the Bureau of Land Management New Mexico State Director, dated October 27, 2014, Western Environmental Law Center, WildEarth Guardians, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the Chaco Alliance, demanded that the agency stop rubber-stamping hundreds of new drilling permits in Mancos Shale/Gallup Formation wells in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico. Among other concerns, the groups stated, “BLM’s approvals are putting the region’s cultural heritage at risk, endangering significant landscapes like Chaco Culture National Historical Park and its outliers, and other areas critical for preserving, understanding, and promoting indigenous presence in the region.”

“In an area already besieged by oil, gas, and coal extraction, BLM cannot continue surrendering our public lands to industry without understanding the long-term cumulative effect that such development has on our health, environment, and sacred cultural resources,” said Mr. Tisdel.

While deferring the lease of public lands located closest to Chaco Canyon is welcome news, the groups are still demanding the agency hold off approval of other proposed developments, including hundreds of drilling permits and a massive new crude oil pipeline that could lead to a quadrupling of fracking in the area. BLM’s 11-year old management plan for the area, which the agency itself describes as inadequate and is in the process of updating, does not account for the impact of new technology, such as horizontal fracking, that allows drilling in sensitive areas that until just a few years ago was not technically or economically feasible.

“The fracking industry is running amok in the San Juan area right now and BLM is bending over backwards to give the industry whatever it wants,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director with WildEarth Guardians. “There is no legal basis for approving another single well, lease, or pipeline in the area. This has to stop now.”

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