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Will NM's Chaco Region Be Sacrificed for U.S. Energy Dominance?

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A bill to prevent any future leasing or mineral development on federal lands within a 10-mile radius around Chaco National Historical Park passed in the U.S. House earlier this year, but stalled in the Senate. (riograndesierraclub.org)
A bill to prevent any future leasing or mineral development on federal lands within a 10-mile radius around Chaco National Historical Park passed in the U.S. House earlier this year, but stalled in the Senate. (riograndesierraclub.org)
September 24, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Tomorrow is the final day to comment on a controversial plan that allows for thousands of new oil and gas drilling sites in New Mexico's historic Greater Chaco region.

The plan is opposed by dozens of conservation groups, New Mexico tribes, communities and citizens who have asked for more time to comment on the plan.

Miya King-Flaherty, organizing representative for Our Wild New Mexico at the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said most tribal people who will be directly impacted by the drilling in northwest New Mexico couldn't participate in virtual meetings on the issue because they don't have internet access or adequate broadband.

"Also, given how COVID ravaged the Navajo Nation, a lot of people were just very much focused on keeping themselves safe, their family safe and just dealing with that crisis," King-Flaherty said.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wants to add up to 3,100 new industrialized fracking wells in the Greater Chaco region.

Proponents of the Trump administration's energy-dominance policies say development on public lands is necessary for the nation's economic and energy security.

King-Flaherty said a coalition of 50 organizations sent a letter last week asking the U.S. Department of the Interior to halt the drilling plan for the Chaco region until the public can participate in-person without risk to health and safety.

She believes there's too much at stake to continue with the current plan and process.

"It would further create health impacts, potentially contaminate groundwater resources, and it will further desecrate a cultural landscape that is very important to tribes, the Pueblo and the Navajo," King-Flaherty said.

More than 93% of public lands in the Greater Chaco region already are leased for oil and gas development, and the BLM would like to open up nearly four million more acres for drilling.

Following recent virtual meetings, both the Interior Department and the BLM refused to make comments part of the official record, and have yet to broadcast or post the proceedings for public review.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Rio Grande Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Public Lands/Wilderness, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM