UPDATE: Unbelievably, shortly after posting this, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management approved yet another fracking well in the Greater Chaco region. If you haven’t yet, lend your voice in support of protecting the Greater Chaco region and Navajo communities from fracking.
In early February, the President and Vice President of the Navajo Nation made a straightforward ask of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management: place a moratorium on fracking-related activities in the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico.
How has the Bureau of Land Management responded since that request was made?
The’ve continued to approve more fracking-related activities in the Greater Chaco region. In fact, one can say the agency has effectively flipped the bird toward the Navajo Nation, its President, and Vice President.
Since the Navajo Nation’s February 6, 2017 request for a moratorium, the Bureau of Land Management has approved nearly 30 new drilling and fracking permits, authorized new pipelines, and approved other developments to accommodate new fracking in the region.
This is what WildEarth Guardians learned after analyzing the Bureau of Land Management’s own database of actions, which are available through its ePlanning website. Here’s a link to one of the recent approvals, a WPX proposal to drill and frack seven new wells in the region.
It clearly shows the Navajo Nation’s request has fallen on deaf ears under President Trump.
Worse, it seems to have been rejected by a callous Administration that has no regard at all for public health and the welfare of Tribal communities. How else to explain the fact that the Bureau of Land Management seems to be acting as if the Navajo Nation’s concerns simply don’t matter?
As background, the Bureau of Land Management has been authorizing a flood of fracking in the vicinity of Chaco Canyon, where Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located. While Chaco Canyon is itself an incredible protected landscape, the region is home to many Navajo communities.
These communities have been completely ignored and disregarded as industry has demanded to drill and frack wherever, however, and whenever it wants. Under Trump, the Bureau of Land Management has been more than willing to oblige oil and gas companies at the expense of Navajo residents, as well as the broader American public.
The consequences have been disastrous, ranging from a massive well explosion near peoples’ homes, a surge in air and water pollution, and widespread threats to the cultural integrity of the Greater Chaco region.
WildEarth Guardians is actually in federal court right now against the Bureau of Land Management for failing to address the air, water, climate, cultural, and human health impacts of this fracking. Our attorneys and attorneys with the Western Environmental Law Center just yesterday filed our opening brief, calling for the reversal of 362 drilling and fracking approvals.
Even the Bureau of Land Management has acknowledged it currently lacks an adequate plan to protect people and public lands from this surge in oil and gas development.
In spite of this, the fracking onslaught continues. Perhaps it’s no surprise the Bureau of Land Management walked out of public meetings in response to frustrations and concerns over this unchecked fracking.
If you don’t know, the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico is the cultural heart of the American Southwest. With Chaco Culture National Historical Park at its core, the Greater Chaco region spans nearly 8,000 square miles where more than a thousand years ago, the Ancestral Puebloan Chaco culture thrived.
The region is filled with Chacoan ruins and other culturally significant sites, and spans far beyond Chaco Canyon. The map below shows just some of the Chaco Great Houses found in this 8,000 square mile region.
Fossil fuel development has sadly been occurring in the area for decades, decimating many cultural sites. The latest threat from horizontal drilling and fracking of the Mancos shale, which underlies virtually all of Greater Chaco, is beyond what has ever occurred here.
Since 2010, hundreds of new oil and gas wells have been drilled and fracked increasingly in the vicinity of Chaco Canyon. Some of these wells are within 10 miles of the Park and inching closer.
The map below shows Chaco Canyon and a 10-mile buffer. It also shows the location of existing oil and gas wells in the area, as well a where drilling has recently started and where drilling has been permitted.
It gets worse, though. The Bureau of Land Management has already made nearly 4,000 square miles of the Greater Chaco region open to oil and gas development. Of this, the agency has leased more than 90% to the oil and gas industry. What is leasing? It’s effectively selling lands for fracking. A lease hands over control and access of public lands to private companies.
As fracking has boomed, more and more land has been sold to industry. Today, there are thousands of acres of public lands that are effectively owned by companies like Encana, WPX, Exxon, and others. These leases are literally on the doorstep of Chaco Canyon, meaning it’s only a matter of time before fracking really starts to attack the heart of Greater Chaco.
The map below shows the location of Chaco Canyon and the oil and gas leases that have been sold by the Bureau of Land Management in the vicinity.
Even while Greater Chaco is under siege and threatened like never before, the Bureau of Land Management has shown no restraint at all in restricting, limiting, our simply hitting the pause button on new fracking. Just in January of this year, the agency actually sold nearly 1,000 more acres for fracking within 20 miles of Chaco Canyon. This, in spite of protests and calls from Tribal leaders to cancel the lease sale.
The silver lining in all of this is that as President Trump and the Bureau of Land Management continue to put the profits of the oil and gas industry before Tribal and American public interests, the opposition is only going to grow and intensify.
In February, the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors joined forces for the first time against fracking and horizontal drilling in the Chaco region. The New Mexico State Legislature also weighed, urging protection of Greater Chaco and its people.
And a growing and diverse number of organizations, including Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Tewa Women United, San Juan Citizens Alliance, New Energy Economy, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and others, are uniting under the Frack Off Greater Chaco Coalition.
It’s an injustice that President Trump and the Bureau of Land Management are thumbing their nose at the Navajo Nation and others calling for restraint. However, their resistance will only make us stronger.