Source: WildEarth Guardians
Photos and Video: San Juan Citizens Alliance
SANTA FE, NM — While four Navajo Nation chapter Presidents, impacted community members, and one NM State Representative were inside New Mexico Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices today, a rally of over 150 supportive water protectors gathered outside, all demanding State Director Amy Lueders exercise her authority to cancel the scheduled January 25 oil and gas lease sale, which threatens 843 additional acres of public lands in the Greater Chaco area for industrialized fracking development.
Chapter Presidents delivered a letter reminding BLM it has yet to complete a plan for community safety, public health, and protection of cultural resources and the environment in the Greater Chaco area in the face of new modern fracking development. The letter, supported by 102 local, national, and tribal organizations, states that until meaningful and lawful consultation occurs with impacted communities, and environmental justice issues are fully assessed, BLM has no business leasing additional land for oil and gas in Greater Chaco.
The proposed parcels have been deferred three times previously (October 2014, January 2015, and October 2016) and the upcoming sale will be the first online oil and gas auction held in New Mexico, an effort to avoid public protest after over 200 demonstrated at BLM’s most recent sale in Santa Fe.
“The injustices run deep,” said Daniel Tso, former Torreon Council Delegate and one of the conveners of the meeting with Director Lueders. “Even BLM’s own employees know that oil and gas are being ramrodded illegally down our throats.”
Published protests of the January lease sale include those of the former Technical Coordinator for the agency’s planning document.
91% of public land in Northwest New Mexico is already leased to oil and gas interests, with most of the remaining unleased land in the Greater Chaco area. Despite the lack of adequate tribal consultation, environmental review, or a comprehensive plan for fracking in the area, BLM has approved over 400 new wells, and now proposes to lease hundreds of more acres of land to drill and frack the area.
Admitting its 2003 Resource Management Plan (RMP) fails to adequately analyze the impacts of fracking the area, the BLM joined with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to amend the plan for Greater Chaco oil and gas development. To date, BLM/BIA has held 11 scoping meetings mostly at Navajo Chapter Houses to solicit tribal input; the agency extended the scoping period to February 20, after being heavily criticized for its original meeting format that silenced community members.
"BLM refuses to listen to us," said Kendra Pinto, Navajo community leader and Twin Pines resident who met with Director Lueders this morning. "This lease sale is a direct assault and insult to our way of life. Our culture, our history, our health, our water, cannot be pushed aside for profit. A few designated archaeological sites in Chaco National Park are protected, but the landscape of Greater Chaco and the living cultural significance – the people, our land, and our water have been threatened for too long. We are coming together to protect all that is sacred."
Taking their cue from protests at Standing Rock, water protectors have responded to BLM’s move to hold its first NM oil and gas lease sale online by showing up at the agency’s doorstep. Many demonstrators today wore “Water Protector” buttons and held “Water is Life” and “Native Lives Matter” signs.
"Water protectors up north have shown the world the true power we have always held as Native Americans,” added Pinto. “We know we must protect Mother Earth, who cares for us and nourishes us.”
New Mexican Senators Udall and Heinrich have issued statements supporting the rights of Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, but both have yet to comment on the need to safeguard Indigenous lives and water protection in Greater Chaco, or the community’s demand to cancel the upcoming January 25 lease sale.
Fracking has already taken a terrible toll in Greater Chaco. The region hosts the nation’s largest methane hotspot as a result of oil and gas activities. In 2016, San Juan County received an "F" from the American Lung Association for ground-level ozone (smog) pollution, responsible for over 12,000 asthma attacks in New Mexican children each year. On a regular basis there are oil and gas disasters - gas tank explosions, water tank explosions (associated with gas production), ruptures, leaks, spills, earthquakes, and air, soil and water contamination. There were more than 1,477 spills in New Mexico related to oil and gas production in 2015 alone – an average of 4 spills per day. And in July 2016, a well pad near the Nageezi Chapter House exploded and burned for days, killing livestock and requiring local residents to evacuate.
A growing coalition with dozens of local and environmental groups as well as more than a dozen Navajo chapters have called for immediate relief for the area on multiple occasions. Today’s demonstration is the latest in many community actions.
“Applications for Permits to Drill continue to be processed, and the Federal Agencies proceed on a 'Development will continue,' timetable regardless of protests, scoping meetings, and reasonable requests,” added Daniel Tso. “When a member of the family hurts, the totality of the family hurts. We hope other allies and tribal groups will join us on this issue.”
After delivering their statements to Director Lueders, protectors went to the Roundhouse for the first day of the New Mexico Legislative Session to call for relief from oil and gas activities for the area.
Representative Derrick Lente, District 65, who was present at the meeting, announced his intention to sponsor a Memorial in the upcoming legislative session supporting a moratorium on fracking development in Greater Chaco until BLM completes its Resource Management Plan Amendment.