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July 28, 2022

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Archaeology Southwest and The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (CPANP) released a report on the threats oil and gas development pose to ancestral homelands and sacred sites of Tribes within and adjacent to national parks in the United States.

The report looks at five national parks and monuments: Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The report explores how oil and gas activities on surrounding lands have harmed these special landscapes over the years, including but not limited to:

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Farmington Field Office has leased nearly 92 percent of the public land surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park to the oil and gas industry, and oil and gas companies have drilled over 37,000 wells in the area.

Tens of thousands of oil and gas wells have been sunk in the area surrounding Dinosaur National Monument over the last century.  There are over 140 orphaned wells within 30 miles of Hovenweep National Monument.

Within the past ten years, BLM announced plans to put more than 10,000 acres of public land near Mesa Verde National Park on the table for oil and gas leasing. A 2015 BLM management plan for the area envisioned 1,000 new oil and gas wells to be drilled in the broader planning area surrounding the park.

Oil and gas development now surrounds Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as nearly 75% of the Little Missouri National Grassland, which borders the park on all sides, has already been leased for oil and gas development.

It also identifies specific steps that the Biden administration and Congress can take to provide cultural landscapes across the country, including those discussed in the report, with enhanced, lasting protection. When deciding which public lands to offer for lease earlier this year, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that sensitive cultural areas would be avoided. Now, these changes must be made permanent.

“The broken federal oil and gas system allows the oil and gas industry to nominate and lease lands for oil and gas drilling on the doorstep of irreplaceable cultural sites and artifacts, and jeopardize the history and heritage of modern-day tribes across the West,” said Paul Reed, Preservation Archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest. “The Department of the Interior and Congress must permanently reform the profoundly outdated federal oil and gas leasing system now so that it prioritizes the protection of these sacred landscapes and their cultural resources for future generations.”

“Our national parks are being adversely affected by ongoing oil and gas leasing and drilling on adjacent lands. The Bureau of Land Management has allowed the industry to lease land right up to the doorstep of many park boundaries, threatening priceless heritage, wildlife, and our public lands,” said Michael Murray, Chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. “The Biden administration must follow through in its promise to reform the federal oil and gas leasing system now so these lands have the protection they need.”

The Biden administration and Congress both have the power to permanently reform the antiquated federal oil and gas leasing system by establishing new rules and policies that require BLM to close public lands to leasing in the areas surrounding these national parks and monuments, establish protective designations, develop consultation protocols with Tribes, and prioritize these lands for restoration. DOI must work quickly to move forward with a rulemaking that makes these reforms permanent before any more new leasing threatens these irreplaceable landscapes.

Click here to download the report. (PDF)