The Greater Chaco region is a living and ancient cultural landscape. A thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico was the ceremonial and economic center of the Chaco Cultural Landscape, an area encompassing more than 75,000 square miles of the Southwest in NM, AZ, CO and UT and sacred to Indigenous Peoples. Today, Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, yet the vast majority of the area is leased to oil and gas activities. Indigenous People, primarily Pueblo and Navajo (Diné) peoples, sacred cultural sites, precious water resources, and the area’s biodiversity are all under a grave and growing threat from fracking.
For over a century, the federal government has quite literally treated the Greater Chaco Landscape like a national energy sacrifice zone. The region has been victim to large-scale resource exploitation, which includes a history of Navajo displacement and land repatriation that has carved the Greater Chaco Landscape into a complex checkerboard of federal, state, private, and Navajo allotment land. A maze of federal and state agencies control the area, which has allowed oil, gas, and mining companies to exploit layers of law, regulations, and oversight agencies. A recent boom of industrialized fracking across New Mexico has made it the second biggest oil producer in the United States, with more than 91% of available lands in the Greater Chaco area leased for fracking.
Fracking disproportionately harms Indigenous communities due to their socioeconomic status; their unique relationship to the land, specifically to water; and their exposure to the harmful effects of colonization and racism. Navajo families experience fractures in their community including increased truck traffic, road degradation, infrastructure decline and failures, increased noise and light pollution, health impacts, decreased air and water quality, degrading water quality, unsafe conditions for livestock, destruction of sacred sites, and other associated impacts. Fracking spills, leaks, and explosions happen daily.
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) first admitted it needed to update its 2003 resource management plan in 2014, since the outdated plan lacked adequate Tribal consultation and failed to consider the impacts of newly industrialized fracking on the landscape. After 10 public meetings held from 2016-2017, the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs released a first of its kind scoping report which promised the pending management plan would finally address environmental and social justice issues as well as the cumulative impacts of fracking in the region. But the yet to be finalized plan, released March 2020 amidst the coronavirus pandemic with limited public access, remains squarely focused on facilitating more industrialized fracking in the area, proposing over 3,000 new wells. In the meantime, agencies continue to rubber stamp more fracking activities with no plan in place to protect the region’s cultural landscape and without adequate consultation with the public in general and with Navajo Chapter Houses and Navajo Allotment Land Owners in particular.
Greater Chaco Coalition Platform
In approving wide-scale fracking on public and Tribal lands, the Department of Interior has failed to consider:
The health, wealth, and wellness of impacted communities, especially that of local Navajo communities, Chapter Houses, and Allotment Land Owners.
The Greater Chaco Landscape expands far beyond Chaco Culture National Historical Park and immediate vicinity and holds spiritual and cultural significance to all Indigenous peoples who are rooted in Chaco culture, not limited to the Navajo Nation.
The long-term and cumulative impacts of fracking on health, land, water, air, and climate.
The Greater Chaco Coalition (Frack Off Chaco) operates by the Jemez Principles and is a collaborative effort between Indigenous community leaders, Native groups, non profits, and public lands and water protectors to advance the following platform:
1) Restore the balance. No more fracking; clean up the mess The federal fossil fuel program is fundamentally broken. Relief is needed, no more leasing or drilling across the Greater Chaco Landscape. Land management decisions must center on protection of integrity of the cultural landscape. The Greater Chaco Landscape has been an energy sacrifice zone for far too long, and the legacy of pollution, including abandoned, orphaned, and non-producing wells must be addressed and fully remediated.
2) Meaningful Tribal consultation and consent at every stage of decision-making
The “check the box” culture of consultation must end, and co-management must begin. Any review, policy, or planning efforts must respect timelines of Tribal-led ethnographic studies and center meaningful Tribal consultation, including free, prior, and informed consent, extended to traditional Navajo Chapters, the Navajo Nation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, and all Tribes who trace lineage to these sacred lands or to Chaco culture.
3) Protect the health, wealth, and wellness of communities; just transitions
Community protections must be put in place to assure quality of life. Just transition efforts and community infrastructure investments must be funded by federal and state agencies to reconcile impacts of sacrifice zones and environmental racism. Fair share distribution and reparations for Tribal and Navajo allotment landowners must be fairly revisited.
Greater Chaco protection cannot be defined by lines on a map, it is defined through the holistic view of the land, air, water, and the sacred. Before issuing fracking permits and leases, agencies must assure suitable protections for the region by first comprehensively analyzing the cumulative impacts of existing and potential oil and gas activities on public health, local quality of life, cultural resources, water resources, air quality, environmental and social justice issues, and climate change.
FRACKING IN GREATER CHACO
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Farmington Field Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Navajo Regional Office is undergoing an amendment to BLM's 2003 Resource Management Plan (RMP) to analyze the impacts of industrialized fracking, which combines horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, in the Greater Chaco region.
The vast majority of available public land in Northwestern New Mexico’s San Juan Basin is already leased to oil and gas interests, with over 37,000 oil and gas wells. Most of the remaining unleased land is in the Greater Chaco region which encompasses Chaco Culture National Historical Park and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Despite the lack of adequate tribal consultation, environmental review, or a comprehensive plan for industrialized fracking in the area, the BLM has approved over 500 new wells across the Greater Chaco region. This new form of unconventional fracking threatens to further fragment the landscape and pollute our air and water resources, endangering the environment and local Navajo communities. The BLM admits to never analyzing the impacts of fracking across this landscape.
In 2014, the BLM’s Farmington Field Office admitted it needed to update its 2003 resource management plan because it lacked adequate Tribal consultation and failed to consider the impacts of newly industrialized fracking in the region.
Nearly 6 years later, the BLM and BIA finally released their long-awaited Mancos-Gallup draft Resource Management Plan Amendment in February 2020. The plan essentially allows for more industrialized fracking and resource degradation. Under the various alternatives, BLM projects between 2,345 and 3,101 new oil and gas wells within the Greater Chaco region--including within a single mile of Chaco Park.
We're calling on supporters to demand the BLM and BIA to fulfill their promises, as evidenced in their scoping report. Our coalition demands include BLM and BIA impose an immediate moratorium on all new fracking and leasing activities, ensure Tribal consultation at every stage of decision-making, and offer a full comprehensive health and social impact assessment of drilling impacts on surrounding communities and economic development alternatives to lead away from extractive economies.
Any action is a great action! Please like our Facebook page, share calls to action, write a Letter to the Editor, but more importantly, send a comment to the BLM.
We are often asked if it's too late to comment or if the leases can be "bought back". Below is some general information about the process and where we go from here.
The lands auctioned off in the Greater Chaco region are national, public lands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the agency that manages public resources and lands for multiple uses, including fossil fuel extraction. They hold lease sales 4-times a year. To ensure that the land is used specifically for development, bidders who want to keep the land in its natural state are not allowed to bid at these lease auctions.
For any type of development that might have adverse effects on the environment, land, air, and communities, the BLM must comply with NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and have a management plan that includes best practices and mitigation planning. The plan must also include an Environmental Impact Statement. The current plan never analyzed horizontal fracking. It lacks best practices and mitigation planning for fracking impacts.
The current 2003 Resource Management Plan (RMP) does not analyze the impacts of industrialized fracking on the environment or people. It also lacks adequate tribal consultation. However, the BLM have admitted this much. This is why they are updating the plan by doing an amendment.
In the first effort of its kind, BLM and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) held 10 public meetings from October 2016 to February 2017, receiving more than 15,000 comments directing the scope of the new plan. Among other things, the agency’s “scoping report” promised the new plan would address climate change, water and soil resources, environmental justice, the “Chaco Cultural Landscape”, public health and safety, Tribal interest and trust responsibilities, truck traffic and road conditions, wildlife, and other issues impacted by industrialized fracking.
With the release of their draft plan, it’s clear the agencies have broken their promises. This is why it is important for you to submit comments to the BLM and demand they stop leasing lands and approving permits. Or at least, place a moratorium on new leasing and approving permits until they have a completed plan, which they are aiming to do by the end of this year.
Rather than slowing down, or placing a temporary halt on new development, the BLM is conducting individual Environmental Assessments (EAs) and tiering the EAs to the 2003 RMP. The EAs lack sufficient tribal consultation and exclude a thorough analysis of sacred sites and horizontal fracking impacts. The EAs consistently cite that fracking has no significant impacts to the environment or surrounding communities. This is the devious practice employed by the BLM that enables them to lease land and approve permits under the 2003 RMP.
However, before newly leased lands can be developed, the BLM must address protest comments filed against each lease sale. Until they are all resolved, fracking cannot take place on these parcels. It’s taken nearly a year for the BLM to resolve protests, so submitting as many protests as possible helps to slow development.