The Greater Chaco region won a reprieve when the Trump Administration responded to public and Tribal pressure and last March canceled plans to auction off more than 4,400 acres of public lands for fracking.
Now, however, the oil and gas industry is doubling down efforts to turn this sacred landscape into a fossil fuel sacrifice zone.
Disturbingly, it appears that since the beginning of 2018, the oil and gas industry has submitted new demands for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to auction off more than 55,000 acres of lands in the Greater Chaco region for fracking.
That’s more than 85 square miles of lands. Worse, it includes lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the heart of the Greater Chaco region.
Through the submission of what are called “Expressions of Interest,” the industry has identified 208 parcels of land it wants the Bureau of Land Management to lease for oil and gas development. All of these Expressions of Interest have been submitted since January 1, 2018.
24 of these parcels are within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. In total, 125 parcels–more than half–are within 20 miles of the Park.
At least three parcels are within five miles of Pueblo Pintado, a huge Ancestral Puebloan village that was inhabited 800 years ago, yet still stands today.
Click on the map below and you can see where these Expressions of Interest are located. This map was created using the Bureau of Land Management’s online database of Expressions of Interest and it shows the location of the sections of public lands being eyed by industry. Based on the Bureau of Land Management’s data, these lands encompass at least 55,000 acres.
Expressions of Interest are essentially requests that public lands be auctioned off for drilling and fracking. Once an Expression of Interest is submitted, it more often than not means those public lands will be sold to the oil and gas industry.
And in the Trump Administration, the possibility that these lands will be put up for auction is higher than ever.
Under a recent rollback of an Obama-era policy requiring greater scrutiny of oil and gas leasing, the Bureau of Land Management was ordered to process all Expressions of Interest within six months and auction the lands as soon as possible.
While the Bureau of Land Management has yet to offer these lands for sale, the agency could put them up on the auction block as early as December 2018. That’s when the next oil and gas lease sale is scheduled that would include recently submitted Expressions of Interest.
In other words, Greater Chaco has not been spared. In fact, it seems to be facing a threat that’s a magnitude of order greater than what it faced in March. For such a sensitive region that has already suffered immensely from unchecked oil and gas development, this is beyond abhorrent.
It gets worse.
99% of these Expressions of Interest were submitted to the Bureau of Land Management anonymously, which is actually allowed under the agency’s policies.
In other words, the Bureau of Land Management is moving to put these lands on the auction block in response to requests from faceless and nameless entities. Unbelievably, all it takes is a shadowy request to get the agency to auction off irreplaceable lands in the Greater Chaco region to the oil and gas industry.
What’s most outrageous, though, is that the Bureau of Land Management is processing these Expressions of Interest even though Tribal interests in the region, including local Navajo residents and Pueblo Tribes with ties to Greater Chaco, have voiced unequivocal opposition.
In letters to the Bureau of Land Management, both the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors have called on the agency to stop auctioning public lands for fracking until a plan is in place to protect local communities and the region’s air, water, climate, and cultural values. Last year, both Tribal entities released an unprecedented joint press release and call for restraint on the part of the Trump Administration.
That the Trump Administration is now moving to process and consider more than 55,000 acres of new oil and gas leasing in the Greater Chaco region, even in spite of Tribal opposition, is nothing short of a slap in the face to Indigenous peoples in the American Southwest.
It’s also a sure sign that absolutely no consultation is occurring between the Bureau of Land Management and Tribal interests in the region.
Solutions are at hand in the Greater Chaco region, but unfortunately it seems the Trump Administration is less interested in solutions and more interested in fomenting more inequality, environmental destruction, and public and Tribal opposition.
For the sake of Greater Chaco communities, for the sacred landscape, and for the region’s air, water, and climate, that has to change. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management can start by denying recently submitted Expressions of Interest in the region and affirming its commitment to effective consultation with Tribes and protection of the irreplaceable cultural fabric of these lands.
You can help make this happen. Contact the Bureau of Land Management and tell them to deny oil and gas leasing Expressions of Interest in the Greater Chaco region. Contact the following officials:
Aiden Seidlitz, New Mexico State Office Director, email@example.com, (505) 954-2222
Victoria Barr, Farmington District Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, (505) 564-7600
Also send an e-mail to email@example.com