New Mexico Communities Protest Expanded Fracking in Greater Chaco
Santa Fe, NM — Community groups and advocates hand-delivered over 10,000 citizen protest comments to the Bureau of Land Management’s New Mexico state office in snowy Santa Fe today in opposition to an oil and gas lease sale scheduled for December that would auction off close to 100,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico for industrialized fracking.
In spite of the serious negative impacts that expanded fracking already has on local communities, the BLM has rolled back opportunities for the public to weigh in on this process, shortening “protest” or appeal periods from 30 days to just 10 days and refusing to hold any public hearings, even near impacted communities. Protest comments must be submitted by mail or hand-delivered, as the New Mexico agency no longer accepts emailed or faxed comments.
Over 10,000 individual and unique protest comments were collected by dozens of tribal, community, and environmental organizations. Technical protest comments were submitted by Western Environmental Law Center, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Chaco Alliance, Counselor Chapter House, Counselor Chapter Health Impact Assessment and Hozhóógó ná adá Committee, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Food & Water Watch, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians.
The New Mexico BLM plans to sell more than 84,000 acres of the Land of Enchantment to the oil and gas industry in a December 6th online auction. This includes more than 43,000 acres in the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico and 41,000 acres in southeast New Mexico’s Greater Carlsbad Caverns region. The sale also includes more than 5,000 acres in Oklahoma and Texas.
While BLM deferred the sale of four parcels totaling 1,040 acres that were within the 10-mile proposed protection zone of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the December sale would still offer up seven parcels totaling 2,506 acres from the BLM Farmington Field Office and 30 parcels totaling 40,762 acres from the BLM Rio Puerco Field Office, as oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region moves further south into Sandoval County, NM. In March, Interior Secretary Zinke deferred the lease sale of 4,334 acres of land in Greater Chaco, calling for more cultural study and consultation after receiving a record-breaking 459 protest comments for that lease sale. Despite the fact that no additional study or tribal consultation has occurred, the BLM now plans to auction off 43,268 acres of public and tribal land in the area, including an additional 11,000 acres slated for sale in March of next year.
Local communities have been clear in their opposition to fracking in the area. Fifteen Navajo Chapter Houses, including the Eastern Navajo Agency Council (ENAC) and Tri-Chapter Council – comprised of Ojo Encino, Torreon/Starlake, and Counselor chapters whose jurisdictions are in the center of new industrialized fracking development in Greater Chaco – have repeatedly called for a moratorium on new drilling and leasing and for the new resource management plan to adequately analyze and address the oil and gas impacts that communities regularly endure. Both drilling areas in New Mexico are currently undergoing Resource Management Planning processes. The December lease sale has drawn widespread condemnation, including from the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Navajo Nation, and U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham.
The vast majority of public lands in the San Juan Basin of Greater Chaco and in the Permian Basin around Greater Carlsbad Caverns are already leased for fracking, and residents nearby have been dealing with the impacts of resource extraction for decades. Greater Chaco residents have reported unsafe road conditions, poor air quality, impacts to livestock, light and noise pollution, psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, increased rates of cancer, respiratory problems, and more.
On the Halloween protest deadline, more than a dozen community representatives hand delivered over 10,000 protest comments, each receiving a required timestamp by BLM personnel before the day’s 4:30PM deadline.
Samuel Sage, Community Services Coordinator – Counselor Chapter House: “BLM’s continuous failing to consult with local chapter government has not changed. The most impacted community members are being left out from making any input by the shortened the comment periods. Counselor community members are suffering the negative impacts at the expense of the rest of the country. Everyone needs to get involved and VOTE!”
Mario Atencio, Diné CARE Board Member: “Diné CARE stands with the Eastern Tri-chapter Navajo Chapters of governments. The BLM’s oil and gas leasing process disregards any consultation of local Navajo Chapter government. Additionally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and BLM do not organize any specific, or sustained, outreach to the individual indian allottees to discuss not just the facts as a fiscal trustee of said individual Indians, but to expand the conversation to include public health issues. The BLM December 2018 lease sale treats the Eastern Navajo communities as a cultural and resource sacrifice area for the continued prosperity of other regions, cities, and citizens in the four corners region. Diné CARE denounces this modern day energy colonialism.”
Pueblo Action Alliance: The BLM has deliberately excluded public input for the 2018 December Lease Sales–potentially auctioning off thousands of acres of lands within the Greater Chaco region. A protest period doesn’t allow for indigenous people to become involved. Often times, our people live in rural areas and don’t have access to participate and give public input. The BLM should implement equitable processes for rural indigenous communities to share their concerns. In March of 2018, nominated land parcels were cancelled due to lack of cultural assessments, this should apply this upcoming lease sale. A land auction is premature without adequate environmental assessments, cultural assessment, public input, and meaningful tribal consultation.
Red Nation Chair and Assistant Professor of Native American Studies and American Studies at the University of New Mexico, Melanie Yazzie (Diné):“Opposition to resource extraction of all kinds is the moral and political test of our time. With recent mass-scale mobilizations against extractive industries in Indigenous territories like Oak Flat and Standing Rock, it is clear that Indigenous peoples and nations are rising up and taking a lead in this opposition. The BLM and all other arms of the US settler state—whose very existence depends upon the continued theft and exploitation of Indigenous land—have an obligation to heed the demands of Indigenous peoples to #FrackOff our lands and waters. If they do not, this opposition will continue to grow until our demands are met.”
Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Organizer, Miya King-Flaherty: “Expanded fracking in Greater Chaco further threatens irreplaceable cultural resources, as well as the health and safety of nearby communities. It is unacceptable for Secretary Zinke to pay lip service to the need for cultural review and consultation while still shutting the public out and charging ahead with plans to auction off this sacred landscape to the fossil fuel industry. The fight to protect Greater Chaco from expanded fracking is not over, and we will not back down until there are permanent protections for this special place and the people who live there.”
WildEarth Guardians Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner, Rebecca Sobel: “In the sacred Greater Chaco region and other irreplaceable western landscapes, we can’t afford to let the Trump Administration succeed in its quest to condemn our lands and our future to fracking. BLM continues to shamelessly embrace an “Energy Dominance” agenda, where public lands are being entirely committed to the oil and gas industry. Today’s record-breaking protest delivery shows that consultation and consent has yet to occur, and the public demands to be counted.”
Terry Sloan, Director, Southwest Native Cultures: “The BLM December 2018 lease sale by-passes so many checks and balances and transparency. There is no “full” environmental assessment, the comment period was shortened to 10 days, the lack of public engagement in the parcel determinations, and lease sales are now conducted online to circumvent in-person public opposition to the oil and gas companies buying the leases. The All Pueblo Council of Governors and certain Navajo Nation Chapters have requested a moratorium, a vast number of organizations and People, including U.S. Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham, are also opposed to the December 2018 lease sale without further and adequate study and assessment. We must hold the BLM accountable.”
Peggy Baker, Board Member of Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens: “We particularly object to the persistent BLM assumptions that the unique groundwater and geologic formations on the East side of the Continental Divide are identical to that near The Farmington area. No studies have been done to support this improbable assumption. Spills, seeps and springs could easily carry contaminants into the pristine Chama Watershed. RACC also strongly protests NM BLM new policies making required public participation in decision making for public land uses nearly moot.”
Eleanor Bravo, Southwest Director, Food & Water Watch: “The continued relentless drive to extract every drop of oil and gas from America’s public lands must stop. The aggressive leasing of land for drilling near fragile, sacred locations like Chaco Canyon will cause the demise of irreplaceable ancient structures built in the 11th century. Interior Secretary Zinke and this administration have made it extremely difficult for the public to render their outrage by establishing stringent parameters and brief comment periods. We will not tolerate this pandering to big business nor will we be silenced or intimidated into accepting the destruction of land that belongs to all Americans, not just the self-regulating fossil fuel industry.”
Mark LeClaire, We Are One River: “The rapid expansion of oil and gas leasing across New Mexico has all the reckless frenzy of a gold rush. We cannot allow the lure of short-term profits to blind us to the risks of irreversible climate change and damaged and depleted aquifers undeniably posed by fracking. This mad rush to exploit our natural resources not only jeopardizes future generations but undermines the legitimacy of the democratic institutions tasked with caring for our land and people.”