Santa Fe, NM -- Today WildEarth Guardians is declaring the number of administrative appeals, also called “protests,” received in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to auction off public lands near Chaco Canyon “unprecedented.”
“By sacrificing the Greater Chaco region to the oil and gas industry, the Bureau of Land Management is just inciting opposition,” said Rebecca Sobel, WildEarth Guardians’ Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner. Sobel has been working on Guardians’ Greater Chaco campaign since 2014. “This is the most appeals ever received around an oil and gas lease sale in New Mexico and this unprecedented show of opposition is a clear sign that the Bureau of Land Management has no regard for public concerns.”
The protests highlight growing controversy and unrest over oil and gas development in Chaco Canyon and the surrounding Greater Chaco region. In December, members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation called for the agency to reconsider its plans. Also in 2017, the Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors, and National Congress of American Indians called for a moratorium on new fracking in the region.
Protestors were required to mail or fax each protest to the BLM state office. By contrast, the January 2017 oil and gas auction of 843 acres of Greater Chaco land received 7 protests. For the March 2018 lease sale, the agency plans to auction off 4,434.37 acres of Greater Chaco for more drilling and fracking.
People have likened the Greater Chaco region to “as close as the US gets to Egypt’s pyramids and Peru’s Machu Picchu.” Greater Chaco houses the largest collection of ancient-Puebloan sites and is home to ancestral and contemporary Native American tribes, including Diné (Navajo) and Pueblo Peoples, that rely on the land to sustain their livelihoods and for traditional and ceremonial practices.
Tribal protests consistently point to insufficient consultation and BLM’s practice of approving development with a finding of “no significant impact” without fulfilling its tribal consultation duties.
Comments were received from four Navajo Chapters - Counselor, Nageezi, Ojo Encino, Torreon/Star Lake - pointing to impacts local community members are already experiencing with existing fracking development. Of chief concern are insufficient setback limits, allowing fracking rigs to be placed 660 ft from Navajo homes.
Twenty federally-recognized Indian tribes - Pueblos of Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, Zuni, and one pueblo in Texas, Ysleta Del Sur - protested the sale as part of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, with the Pueblo of Acoma additionally commenting independently. Council Chairman Paul Torres called BLM's decision to lease parcels “unjustifiable.”
Protests were received representing fifteen non-profits, including WildEarth Guardians, and five local businesses.
“The public outcry over fracking in Greater Chaco has been unprecedented,” said Sobel. “Despite expressed demands from tribal governments, businesses and residents of the area, the BLM seems hellbent on sacrificing every possible acre of land for fracking development in Greater Chaco. We’re exhausting every available administrative option for Greater Chaco protections, but reasonable requests continue to fall on deaf ears.”
Protestors were also overwhelmingly rural New Mexicans concerned with fracking impacts to water and damage to critical watersheds. One hundred and nine protests came from rural landowners, including ranchers, farmers, and one landowner objecting to the inclusion of his land in a proposed parcel for lease.
Despite claims of violating the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), BLM continues to rubber stamp fracking development across the Greater Chaco Landscape, with 91% of available lands already leased for oil and gas development.
“The BLM is hearing a resounding call to put people over profit regarding public lands management,” said Sobel. “The record number of protests received for this oil and gas lease sale prove that despite its efforts, this Administration can’t erase the public from public lands.”