New Mexicans Demand Obama Administration Protect Public Lands and Communities, Keep Oil and Gas In the Ground

Santa Fe, NM

A coalition today called on the Obama Administration to rein in unchecked fracking near Chaco Canyon and abandon its plans to auction off nearly 1,000 acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry in Greater Chaco.

“The intensity of oil and gas drilling and fracking in Greater Chaco is remarkable for any landscape, but for this to occur without any analysis of its effects, next door to native communities and in an archaeological site is beyond the pale,” said Kyle Tisdel of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Is there no combination of ill effects that will give BLM pause in facilitating this fracking frenzy?”

In formal comments submitted to the Bureau of Land Management, WildEarth Guardians, the Western Environmental Law Center, and others called for the agency to protect the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico from the oil and gas industry. A surge in fracking has descended upon the region, putting Chaco Canyon and neighboring Navajo communities at risk.

The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to auction off more public lands in the Greater Chaco region to the oil and gas industry comes as fracking has taken a terrible toll on the area. On July 11, a fracking site explosion in the area caused 55 residents to evacuate their homes. Some remain hospitalized.

“The communities living near Chaco are impacted by fracking pollutants on a daily basis. They experience uncontrollable flaring, poor air quality and are exposed to other chemical hazards,” said Miya King-Flaherty, Public Lands Fellow for the Sierra Club. “Fracking in the Greater Chaco area is unchecked and oil and gas industries recklessly release methane and other VOCs affecting the air quality, while exacerbating climate change.”

The proposed leasing also comes as the oil and gas industry has been identified as a key contributor to climate pollution in the region.

In spite of obvious public health and environmental threats, the Bureau of Land Management continues to assert there are “no significant impacts” associated with expanded oil and gas development.

In 2015, a coalition of groups filed suit over the Bureau of Land Management’s ongoing approval of oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region. Although the agency has acknowledged that it lacks a plan to ensure protection of air, water, wildlife, and communities, it continues to approve leasing and drilling.

“For too long, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed the fracking industry to run amok in the San Juan Basin without regard for cultural or environmental preservation, or community safety,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “Fracking sites and pipelines are exploding across New Mexico and, to add insult to injury, people are left in the dark regarding health and safety concerns. That the Bureau of Land Management continues to ignore the public outcry and is considering leasing even more land in Greater Chaco in complete disregard for community safety and climate impacts is not only unlawful, it’s unconscionable.”

Last week, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed a landmark federal lawsuit challenging the Obama Administration’s leasing of 379,950 acres of public lands for failing to account for greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, groups filed a lawsuit and preliminary injunction challenging BLM’s approval of fracking wells in Greater Chaco without considering the impact that such development would have on the environment and human health. While plaintiffs await a ruling from the Tenth Circuit, BLM continues to approve drilling permits without completing a study of the impacts, as the law requires, already having leased more than 91 percent of public lands in the area to oil and gas interests.

A copy of the groups’ comments is available here and here.

Kyle Tisdel, Western Environmental Law Center, (575) 613-8050, Rebecca Sobel, WildEarth Guardians, (267) 402-0724, 
Miya King-Flaherty, Sierra Club, (505) 301-0863, 

Click here for more on WELC’s work to protect Greater Chaco from oil and gas exploitation.

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