By Miya King-Flaherty, Sierra Club Our Wild America
The fight to protect Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the communities of Greater Chaco is becoming a priority for lawmakers both locally and nationally. On Dec. 19, the New Mexico Congressional Delegation released a letter to Bureau of Land Management State Director Aden Seidlitz that essentially calls for cancelling the March 8, 2018, lease sale until meaningful and thorough tribal consultation has occurred. This is a victory and thanks to our collective efforts, we are making progress.
Locally, preserving greater Chaco also has the attention of the New Mexico Legislature Indian Affairs Committee. On Oct. 5, the committee held a meeting at Ojo Encino Chapter House to hear about issues affecting communities in the Tri-Chapter area, which consists of Ojo Encino, Counselor and Torreon/Star Lake Chapters. These Navajo chapters are also within the Bureau of Land Management’s Mancos Shale-Gallup Resource Management Plan Amendment area. The most pressing issue? Fracking and its widespread impacts.
The Bureau of Land Management was invited, but did not attend.
The Tri-Chapter leaders and representatives presented first and talked about the deteriorating condition of the rural, community roads, which are constantly used by heavy oil and gas trucks. These roads were built for residents to travel home and to work, for school buses transporting children and other community uses. They were never intended to withstand the heavy weight of trucks transporting fracking chemicals, produced water or sand for drilling operations.
This year, community members testified, road conditions were increasingly dangerous due to ramped up drilling activity. Some rural roads had ruts as deep as 1 foot, and earlier this year, school days were cancelled because the roads were impassable.
The committee also heard from Navajo community leader and former Torreon Chapter Council delegate Daniel Tso, Sierra Club and Health Impact Assessment volunteer Teresa Seamster, San Juan Health Equity Collaborative Coordinator and Hózhóógo na’ adá study coordinator Hazel James, and community member Mario Atencio. The presentations revealed a host of fracking impacts experienced by communities living in Greater Chaco.
State Sen. William Soules agreed that marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by development. State Rep. Liz Thompson committed to fully supporting the needs of the community. And Sen. Benny Shendo made a motion for the committee to address road conditions.
Sen. William Sharer stressed the importance of jobs provided by the industry and said the presentation lacked a balance between industry and community welfare.
What imbalance exists when people suffer, tribal consultation is ignored, and sacred landscapes are destroyed?
Other local efforts
In an effort to develop planning policies that inform the BLM Resource Management Plan Amendment, which includes mitigation alternatives to address oil and gas development, 11 Navajo Chapters have formed the Navajo Eastern Agency Management Zone. The BLM and Bureau of Indian Affairs have already completed their joint scoping process to determine and analyze the impacts of fracking, but they have still not engaged in any meaning tribal consultation to address them. We hope the formulation of NEAMZ and coalition efforts will lead the way for true tribal consultation.
This month in December, the Greater Chaco Coalition convened and is gearing up for 2018 strategies to protect Greater Chaco and demand environmental justice for impacted communities. We’ll need to fight on all fronts ahead of the March 8, 2018 lease sale of 25 parcels–several were removed that were within the 10-mile buffer thanks to our New Mexico Congressional Delegation and coalition efforts. We’ll be ready to amplify calls for environmental justice, protection of cultural resources, meaningful tribal consultation, and respect for tribal sovereignty. Thanks to your continued support, we submitted over 900 comments opposing the March 8, 2018 lease sale of an additional 4,400 acres, but we’ll need to do more.