Success Story: BLM Defers Oil and Gas Lease Sale Near Chaco Culture NHP
On Friday, March 2, 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has directed the BLM to defer its scheduled Farmington New Mexico Field Office oil and gas lease sale so the agency can complete an ongoing analysis of more than 5,000 cultural sites in the proposed leasing area. BLM’s announcement can be found at this link: https://www.blm.gov/press-release/blm-defers-oil-and-gas-lease-sale-parcels-new-mexico.
The Planning Area is located in San Juan, Rio Arriba, McKinley, and Sandoval Counties in New Mexico, and encompasses approximately 4,200,000 acres of land, including approximately 1,900,000 acres of Tribal surface land, 1,300,000 acres of BLM-managed land, across 17 Navajo Nation chapters, individual Indian allotments, and numerous Chapter House residents. The proposed lease sale included 25 parcels within the Planning Area, covering 4,434 acres. The primary potential interest in oil and gas development was located in the southern portion of the Project Area, within the Mancos Shale / Gallup Sandstone Formation that lies within close proximity to Chaco Culture National Historic Park (NHP).
In February 2017, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition) submitted comments to the BLM expressing concerns about a number of potential adverse cultural and natural resource impacts to the Chaco Culture NHP, from possible oil and gas development. Our comments can be found here: https://protectnps.org/caution-urged-for-oil-and-gas-plan-near-chaco-culture-nhp/. The Planning Area also includes Aztec Ruins National Monument, so the Coalition’s comments reflected concerns for potential impacts to that National Park System unit as well.
In the announcement, BLM New Mexico Acting State Director Aden Seidlitz said “We understand the cultural importance of this area, and the need to gather additional information about this landscape before holding a lease sale.”
The Coalition applauds the BLM decision to conduct further study of potential cultural and natural resource impacts prior to any lease sale in this culturally important region. While future leasing remains a possibility, the deferral decision is welcome news for park advocates.