Protecting Chaco Canyon and the San Juan Basin from fracking

VICTORY! Protecting Chaco Canyon and the San Juan Basin From Fracking

With two mine-to-mouth coal-fired power plants and some 23,000 existing gas wells, New Mexico’s San Juan Basin is one of the areas in the U.S. most exploited for fossil fuel resources. Despite over a century of development, the type of unconventional drilling and modern fracking techniques needed to tap the area’s oil resources is relatively new. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) admits that shale oil development using these technologies has never been analyzed. As a result, the agency is amending its resource management plan (RMP). Nevertheless, BLM has approved more than 130 new drilling permits in the last year alone.

The greatest concentration of these is just outside Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a sacred ancestral place for the Hopi and Pueblo people. This development threatens the area’s rich cultural resources, treasured landscapes and native communities while ignoring federal law. WELC and our partners are taking the agency to court to protect human health, as well as resources like air quality, climate and water.

In 2019, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals granted us a victory, concluding the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to properly account for the impacts of horizontal drilling and fracking in the region. The court vacated the 362 permits, and ordered the BLM go back to the drawing board to fix its legal mistakes.

Further, under pressure from the local community, including WELC and our partners, President Biden initiated the process to ban new oil and gas drilling within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. This is a step in the right direction, but the area needs much more sweeping protections than just stopping new drilling within a small radius of the park. The cultural resources, sacred lands, and living communities have suffered as an energy sacrifice zone for far too long, and we will continue our work to grant the region relief.

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