Fracking Continues Outside the 10-mile Buffer: Honor GREATER Chaco Now!
In this post, frontline community members of the Greater Chaco Coalition explain why it is critical to keep fighting for landscape-level protections and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for the entire Greater Chaco region. All photos and videos shared here are of ongoing development outside of the proposed 10-mile buffer zone, taken in 2022 by Earthworks Field Staff.
This Friday, the public comment period on the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to temporarily stop new oil and gas leasing within a 10-miles radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park comes to a close. As members of the Greater Chaco Coalition, we support this mineral withdrawal as an important first step but, as we have long advocated, much more needs to be done to protect and restore the cultural integrity of the Greater Chaco Landscape and its communities, and to address the impacts of over 40,000 oil and gas wells already in the region.
Late last year, when Interior Secretary Haaland kicked off the Honoring Chaco Initiative, we were hopeful. Honoring Chaco is a new collaborative process that promises to finally meaningfully involve Tribes, Pueblos, and impacted Indigenous communities in landscape-level land and resource management in the region. The 10-mile withdrawal is the first step in this multi-pronged process.
But since the launch of the Honoring Chaco Initiative, the Bureau of Land Management has continued to weigh the approval of more than 100 new oil and gas wells, miles and miles of new roads and pipelines, and other irreparable disturbances across the landscape caused by heavy equipment. While we applaud efforts to protect Greater Chaco, one thing remains crystal clear: the Bureau of Land Management cannot pretend to honor this cultural landscape and its communities while simultaneously continuing to sacrifice them for oil and gas extraction.
“The oil and gas industry has made a significant impact on our landscape, causing a lot of damage”, shares Samuel Sage, Community Services Coordinator for Counselor Chapter and Vice President of the Board of Diné C.A.R.E. “Just last week, I noticed a new pipeline project going in. It was kicking dust up everywhere and destroying the land. The companies and the Bureau of Land Management never come to our Chapter to notify or ask our community about these projects. We find out after the ground is already being broken. Over 91% of available federal lands in the Farmington Field Office alone have already been leased for extraction. When are they going to stop?”
Our communities are equally concerned about what the Bureau of Land Management’s approach to public engagement so far may mean for the Honoring Chaco Initiative going forward. Only after community members and elected officials demanded more accessible and equitable public meetings regarding the 10-mile withdrawal - including meetings in impacted areas where translators and court interpreters were present - did the Bureau of Land Management extend the public comment deadline and hold additional meetings. Still, the agency refused to accept substantive comments on the mineral withdrawal, and instead only wanted to hear statements “for” or “against” the proposal. This kind of engagement is not conducive to meaningful dialogue or involvement.
As part of the Honoring Chaco Initiative, the commitment from the Bureau of Land Management to engage in meaningful tribal consultation has not been fulfilled. The Bureau of Land Management has continued to approve a number of oil and gas development projects, which contributes to the negative health and environmental impacts to the landscape and Indigenous peoples within the Greater Chaco Landscape.
“While Pueblo Action Alliance supports a halt to new oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile buffer of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, more needs to be done regarding protections for the entire landscape”, Julia Bernal, a member of Sandia Pueblo and the Director of Pueblo Action Alliance states. “A 10-mile buffer does not address the other oil and gas development happening within the region, for example the current development in the Ojo Encino community. There needs to be full landscape protections of cultural resources including water, public health, and environmental impacts that communities are experiencing. Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), can be a vital tool throughout the Honoring Greater Chaco process, especially as it relates to the 10-mile withdrawal of public lands".
"Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), can be a vital tool throughout the Honoring Greater Chaco process, especially as it relates to the 10-mile withdrawal of public lands." - Julia Bernal, Director of Pueblo Action Alliance
The Greater Chaco Landscape deserves full and robust consultation, rigorous consideration of health impacts, and a commitment to environmental justice. Community protections must be put in place to assure quality of life beyond the 10-mile buffer. Just transition efforts and community infrastructure investments must be funded to reconcile impacts of sacrifice zones and environmental racism.