The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) released their long-awaited Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan Amendment for the Greater Chaco region on Friday, February 28, 2019, embittering Greater Chaco Coalition members and dashing hopes for meaningful action to address the onslaught of fracking across the Greater Chaco Landscape.

In 2014, the BLM’s Farmington Field Office admitted it needed to update its 2003 resource management plan because it lacked adequate Tribal consultation and failed to consider the impacts of newly industrialized fracking in the region.  In the first effort of its kind, BLM and BIA held 10 public meetings from October 2016 to February 2017, receiving more than 15,000 comments directing the scope of the new plan.  Among other things, the agency’s “scoping report” promised the new plan would address climate change, water and soil resources, environmental justice, the “Chaco Cultural Landscape”, public health and safety, Tribal interest and trust responsibilities, truck traffic and road conditions, wildlife, and other issues impacted by industrialized fracking.

With the release of their draft plan, it’s clear the agencies have broken their promises.

“BLM’s draft plan represents a wasted opportunity to meaningfully address the federal government’s role in precipitating the climate crisis and the harm being caused to people and communities living in the shadow of oil and gas exploitation,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “While the alternatives BLM considered include cosmetic differences, each perpetuates a harmful legacy of oil and gas exploitation. Rather than keeping its narrow focus to reach a desired outcome, BLM should prepare a plan revision that considers the full spectrum of how our public lands should be managed in a time of climate breakdown.”

BLM’s proposed plan remains squarely focused on facilitating more industrialized fracking and resource degradation. Under the various alternatives, BLM projects between 2,345 and 3,101 new oil and gas wells within the planning area. While BLM’s “preferred alternative” claims that “human health and the environment” are among its chief objectives, this plan still proposes 3,068-3,085 new wells in the planning area, only 16-33 fewer wells than proposed in the “maximum development” scenario.

Despite promises of cultural landscape protections, BLM continues to fail in recognizing the broader context of its leasing and drilling decisions, failing to account for the cumulative impacts from the 37,000 existing oil and gas wells in the region, or other nearby oil and gas activities. While BLM admits its proposed oil and gas plan will exceed safe public health and air quality limits for all development scenarios, the agency proposes no plan to mitigate these impacts or to limit drilling.

Since 2013, the BLM has approved more than five hundred new industrialized fracking wells in the Greater Chaco region, having never analyzed the impacts of new horizontal drilling technologies. This drilling has utterly transformed and degraded the landscape, fueling more air pollution, more safety concerns, more truck traffic, and more industrialized development where there previously was none. In that same period, the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors, National Congress of American Indians, 15 Navajo Chapter Houses, the New Mexico Legislature, the New Mexico State Land Office, and over 500,000 citizens have called for restraint, and for meaningful protections for the people and places of the Greater Chaco Landscape.

Since 2016, thousands of members of the Greater Chaco Coalition—which is comprised of more than 200 tribal, environmental, and community groups fighting for Greater Chaco protections—have rallied in front of BLM offices in New Mexico at each quarterly oil and gas lease sale, calling on the agency to rein in unchecked fracking. In March 2018, Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke cancelled the sale of nearly 4,500 acres of land in the Greater Chaco region, acknowledging the need to address landscape-wide cultural protection, but BLM has yet failed to conduct any ethnographic or cultural resource surveys in the region.

Last December, Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Ben Ray Luján led efforts to further protect the immediate Chaco area with bipartisan passage of the Interior Appropriations bill, which restricts funding for new oil and gas leasing within a proposed 10-mile buffer for a year and allocates $1 million for a Tribal-led cultural resources study of the area. Although a step in the right direction, this is a  temporary solution, and permanent protections are needed for the Greater Chaco landscape, surrounding communities, air and water resources, and cultural resources.

The Greater Chaco Coalition is demanding a new plan that fulfills BLM’s promises and will remain steadfast in the collective call for BLM to impose an immediate moratorium on all new fracking and leasing activities, to ensure Tribal consultation at every stage of decision-making, and to offer a full comprehensive health and social impact assessment of drilling impacts on surrounding communities and economic development alternatives to lead away from extractive economies.

BLM and BIA plan to announce public meetings, hearings, or other public participation activities through public notices, media releases, and or direct mailings. The deadline to submit public comments on the draft plan is May 28, 2020.

Contacts:

Kyle Tisdel, Western Environmental Law Center, (575) 613-8050, gro.w1607190880alnre1607190880tsew@1607190880ledsi1607190880t1607190880

Mario Atencio, Diné C.A.R.E., (505) 321-9974, *protected email*

Sam Sage, Counselor Chapter CSC and VP Diné C.A.R.E., (505) 360-5865, moc.l1607190880iamto1607190880h@ega1607190880sleum1607190880as1607190880

Rebecca Sobel, WildEarth Guardians, (267) 402-0724, gro.s1607190880naidr1607190880aught1607190880raedl1607190880iw@le1607190880bosr1607190880

Statements:

“The 2003 resource management plan proceeded with minimal Tribal consultation that slanted heavily to a singular use, allowing an unfettered tsunami of oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco landscape. The BLM Farmington Field Office will not allow a new multiple use plan and instead continues with its wanton desire to piecemeal plans with amendments. The effect is drilling and hydraulic fracturing nearer and nearer to Chaco Historical Park. We continue to ask for meaningful engagement to turn the tide such that community members residing in the landscape are assured safety, and that their health is afforded proper consideration. The tide has to turn so that the community isn’t being marginalized and sacrificed. This draft amendment speaks to minimal cultural resource protection, but the indigenous peoples who reside there or have ties to the Greater Chaco landscape are also cultural resources and they need to be treated with great, great respect and honor.”

“Care for the health of the community is not being considered by the BLM and they never provided the Counselor community with a health assessment. With the help of our allies, members of the Counselor Health Committee recently completed a community air quality assessment that was approved by the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board in 2019. We hope the BLM will now consider the information we provided in their plans. Exposing our residents to greater hazardous levels of air and water pollution, by permitting another 3,000 or more oil wells in the Chaco area is putting everyone’s health at risk for acute symptoms and chronic illness in our communities.”

“The planning process is a complicated process used by the BLM to enable the advancement of ‘economic development’ over public health and safety. I find it atrocious that the externalities from industrialized fracking are not entirely considered in this RMP-A and the voices of local community members is minimized and ignored. The capitalist nature invited into my community has not been a god-send but a mixture of pain and anger. We will continue to voice our concerns for individuals who must live with this oil and gas infrastructure but have no or little say in how the process is created or directed. Perhaps an increase of awareness has not been fully awakened in my community, but do not be fooled, there are many of us who have been preparing for this invasion for years. We will continue to find ways in which the effects of natural resource extraction do not lead us into a future with no clean air or clean water.”

“I view this whole process, through an environmental justice lens, as an example of how ‘energy dominance’ by the current administration is synonymous with ‘environmental racism.’ As a spokesperson for my mother and father, Indigenous-Navajo federal allotment holders, we denounce this amendment as being a colonial mandate from an increasingly authoritarian U.S. executive branch. The amendment to the 2003 resource management plan is a document that fails to take into account any considerations from indigenous peoples and local Navajo Nation governments. The Navajo Nation Council has passed resolutions adopting the United Nation Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the articles that define the need for ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent’ have been ignored by BLM. In the more than six years since the start of the action to amend the 2003 resource management plan, there have been numerous court cases, congressional legislation, and administrative actions that should move BLM to consider a whole new plan.”

“We are in support of the All Pueblo Council of Governor’s Resolution to protect the spiritual, cultural, and physical landscape of the Greater Chaco Region. It is a great injustice the way the BLM is blatantly moving forward with an environmental statement and plan that disregards the health of communities, our environment, and any collaboration and respect of the People’s of this place. This lack of consideration and imposed  oppression and mismanagement on the part of the BLM is continuing a legacy of violence on Indigenous lifeway’s and health, and cannot be tolerated if there is to be any hope for a future for our children.”

“Clearly, the fight to end drilling in the Greater Chaco region is not over. The historical and present relationship that indigenous people and the federal government have with each other does not stand on a basis of trust. BLM must account for the cumulative impacts of fracking, and the living community of the Greater Chaco landscape who continue to experience adverse health impacts from extractive industry. Pueblo Action Alliance will fight in solidarity with the Pueblo tribal nations and the Dine Tri-Chapter Houses as well with our non-indigenous allies.”

“This draft plan completely disregards the voices of Indigenous people who protect and live off the land.  BLM is violating human and land rights if it moves forward with this RMPA that favors extractive industries over the public and continues the sacrifice of Indigenous peoples on stolen lands.  The voices of the people must be considered and BLM and BIA must start a new planning process that considers the full impacts of the sacrifice zones it creates.”

“Again the BLM is neglecting their land management responsibility to the American public, “to sustain the Health, diversity and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations,” by ignoring requests by over 100 organizations, over five hundred thousand public comments, dozens of Tribes, Navajo Chapters, the National Congress of American Indians, the New Mexico Land Office and the All Pueblo Council of Governors, for a new Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan, not an amended outdated plan, or a band-aid. It also appears that the current 2020 version of the BLM is mirroring the all about money mandate of the current U.S. administration for our public lands by entertaining a Tribal council’s support of a five-mile buffer zone around our Sacred Chaco Canyon, allowing for more extraction, development and contamination, where true cultural, land and Sacred Water protecting Mother Earth Protectors demand at least a ten-mile buffer zone.  We must continue to demand a new Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan. If the BLM does not have the capacity, capability or resources to create a new one, why not engage the resources of over 200 organizations and/or the 500,000 American stakeholders to write one.”

“We have our answer and now we must act with more unity and solidarity than ever before. Shame on the decision makers who are intentional in their efforts to cut out public comments and health impacts that are creating serious problems for our entire ecosystem. Let us remember, the protection of Chaco Canyon is a global issue and it needs a global response.  For too long, federal agencies have dominated these landscapes with their master plans for ‘economic development’ in international markets, while the people who live, work and create families in the same region, live in communities and Tribal Nations that survive in third world conditions.  Let us not be naive to know that even our own Tribal people are vulnerable to choosing profit over people.  It is time for the PEOPLE of Tribal Nations–young and old–to rally their governments and leadership to fully exert their Sovereign rights, create laws of protection in-house and leave no room for compromise if the benefit will not be local, for Tribal people and for all New Mexicans. The Bureau of Land Management continues to be fraudulent in its process and remains absent in upholding the laws written by its own superior, the United States of America.”

“In a climate emergency when the U.S. could be an example of sustainable transformative change, they have decided to further dishonor the value of Indigenous connection and stewardship to our land and resources by the complete exclusion in concern to our narratives for preservation. This makes Indigenous communities the example of real leadership and honor in the fight for climate justice for our Earth. The U.S. does not care about the future of the next seven generations of anyone’s children by further investing in fossil fuels than sustainable and renewable energy, and this BLM plan proves it.”

“We are outraged that despite widespread public concern for the rights of Indigenous peoples, the preservation of historic sites, the public health risks of fossil fuel extraction, and the climate emergency, the BLM has decided to continue its pattern of industrial assault on the American people. Alternative C prioritizes fossil fuel extraction at the EXPENSE of community needs, land health, and human wellbeing.  YUCCA stands in solidarity with the All Pueblo Council of Governors, members of Greater Chaco Coalition, and those on the frontlines of our country’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuel dollars. We refuse to be silent as people’s lives and cultures are erased under the banner of “economic development” and our futures as young people are threatened.”

“BLM and BIA are far from completing required consultation with impacted communities that would be affected by increased oil and gas industrialization of lands throughout Northwest New Mexico.  Industrialization of the landscape is incompatible with the importance of preserving areas in New Mexico that aren’t overwhelmed by oil and gas.”

“BLM’s draft plan represents a wasted opportunity to meaningfully address the federal government’s role in precipitating the climate crisis and the harm being caused to people and communities living in the shadow of oil and gas exploitation. While the alternatives BLM considered include cosmetic differences, each perpetuates a harmful legacy of oil and gas exploitation. Rather than keeping its narrow focus to reach a desired outcome, BLM should prepare a plan revision that considers the full spectrum of how our public lands should be managed in a time of climate breakdown.”

“The Bureau of Land Management’s draft plan proposes to continue unchecked fracking of the Greater Chaco Landscape at all costs to the people, culture, and climate. People are right to question the agency’s integrity – while paying lip service to cultural safeguards, the Bureau of Land Management continues to paper over a path resolute in supporting Trump’s reckless ‘Energy Dominance’ agenda.”

“The BLM’s preferred alternative in the draft Resource Management Plan makes a laughable claim to “strike a balance” between community needs and development, but it only demonstrates how servile this administration is to Big Oil and Gas. The whole process perpetuates the Trump Administration’s quest to kowtow to industry at the expense of public health and safety, clean air and drinking water, the climate, and cultural resources in the Greater Chaco region.”

“The BLM’s draft Resource Management Plan flagrantly ignores public health, the environment and recommends the continued desecration of sacred heritage sites, all for the profit of the oil and gas industry. The Trump administration continues to ignore the input of indigenous communities who are impacted by the onslaught of drilling in this region, effectively making the Greater Chaco Region a sacrifice zone for oil and gas industry profits. It is the responsibility of the federal government to protect federal lands, take environmental justice into account, and preserve cultural resources for the betterment of society–not the profits of a few. The first step is a ban on all new leasing and fracking in this region, and the development of a comprehensive plan for the protection of this historically, culturally, and environmentally significant region–that is the ancestral home of Native communities who deserve far greater respect.”

“The International Panel on Climate Change was very clear that CO2 emissions must drop in half by 2030 and be at zero by 2050 in order to preserve a livable climate. This means that fossil fuel extraction must end on that same schedule. No new fracking wells can be allowed on any public lands, including and especially on culturally sensitive sites like Greater Chaco. 350 New Mexico stands with our allies in the Greater Chaco Coalition in strongly opposing this climate-wrecking plan from the BLM.”

“Time to listen to the scientists, our youth, indigenous leaders, and community members of New Mexico to protect our water, air, land, and future.  In a time of climate crisis when we must rapidly draw down emissions, it is outrageous that the BLM is proposing thousands of new fracking sites.  Enough is Enough. Future generations deserve a healthy planet. We are calling on the BLM to impose an immediate moratorium on all new fracking and leasing activities in the Greater Chaco region and include Tribal consultation at every stage of the decision-making process, in solidarity with the Greater Chaco Coalition.”

“BLM has once again punted on disclosure of the harmful impacts resulting from oil and gas development with this plan amendment. Unbridled drilling and fracking has far-reaching implications for human health, natural and cultural resources, and climate change. BLM owes the American people a complete picture of how its management of our federal public lands damages our climate.”

“BLM released their long-awaited Mancos-Gallup projected oil and gas plan which is entirely out of sync with action necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change.  This risky extraction industry is killing us – and destroying our only home.  We demand a just transition, which includes a sound economic plan (which this administration is avoiding) to reinvigorate a new energy economy based on environmental justice.”

“The BLM has once again abdicated its responsibility to protect public lands, our cultural heritage, and the rights of Indigenous communities.  Indigenous communities have spoken on this issue and their rights to free and informed consent and rigorous consultation are being violated by this proposal.  So too are the rights of our youth who are seeing their rights for a livable future be auctioned away to the highest bidder. Alternative C is no alternative at all but a pig with lipstick.”

“The climate and extinction crises can’t afford more fossil fuel expansion, but that’s exactly what this dangerous plan does.  The Bureau of Land Management will face fierce resistance until it stops servicing corporate polluters at the cost of communities and our climate future.”