Chaco’s surprise reprieve 

By Miya King-Flaherty, Our Wild New Mexico

In an unanticipated move, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke cancelled a March lease auction of 4,454 acres in Greater Chaco to oil and gas companies.

Thanks to the efforts of our New Mexico Congressional delegates, the Frack Off Chaco Coalition, the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors, National Congress of American Indians, 15 Navajo chapter houses, the Legislature and thousands of concerned citizens, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke instructed the Bureau of Land Management to defer the sale pending analysis of cultural resources in the lease area.

In response, the Frack Off Chaco Coalition held two events, one in Albuquerque and the other at the BLM New Mexico State office in Santa Fe. Organizers presented a large “Thank You” card to Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich’s staff in Albuquerque to remind them that more work is needed to ensure protections for public health and cultural resources. Sen. Udall’s state director, Greg Bloom, read a statement from the senator promising that he will continue to fight for impacted residents and our national heritage in and around Chaco.

At the BLM New Mexico State office, organizers delivered more than 200,000 public signatures calling for a moratorium on drilling in Greater Chaco and for meaningful public health, cultural and environmental protections.

Community members in Greater Chaco are also taking a stand against unchecked oil and gas leasing near their homes by planting signs along U.S. 550 in Counselor, N.M. The messages read: “Entering Energy Sacrifice Zone,” “We Are Greater Chaco,” “Violence Against Land is Violence Against Us,” “Extraction Threatens Our Health and Safety,” “Selloff Of Sacred Lands Dooda,” and “Methane Gas: Odorless Toxin in Our Air.”

“One of the purposes of the signs is to get the community talking. The dangers associated with natural-resource extraction affect us in one way or another whether we want to believe it or not. Becoming aware of the so-called political ground we stand on is powerful, and we must stand against destruction if we are to ensure there will be a future living with and on the land,” said Kendra Pinto, Navajo Nation Twin Pines resident.

Although the lease sale has been deferred, the BLM continues to approve drilling permits near homes and public spaces. This is a small victory, but the battle continues.

Featured image: Kendra Pinto, Counselor Health Impact Assessment project manager, installs a monitor to measure indoor and outdoor air quality within 1 mile of an oil well in Navajo Nation Counselor Chapter, N.M. Sierra Club provided funds for the 20 monitors the team installed April 15 and will pay for lab analysis and reports to each household, church and chapter house being monitored, as well as air-quality reports when monitoring is complete in 32 days.

Chaco’s surprise reprieve 
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