By Miya King-Flaherty
Chapter Public Lands fellow
Despite a recent explosion that destroyed thirty-six storage tanks on July 11 in Nageezi, N.M., the Bureau of Land Management’s Farmington Field Office continues to lease lands and approve drilling permits.
The BLM’s Environmental Assessment reports, which are supposed to thoroughly analyze the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before approving leases and drilling permits, constantly cite ‘Findings of No Significant Impact’ to the surrounding communities, land, water or sacred sites.
The explosion occurred at a newly developed WPX site that caused 55 residents to evacuate their homes — some lost their pets and others lost livestock. This site is less than half a mile away from many residences, and within 5 miles of dozens more. Safety continues to be a concern for communities living in the greater Chaco area. Fracked wells are increasingly moving closer to Chaco Culture National Historic Park, and the surrounding communities experience the impacts.
The BLM is moving forward with leasing more parcels of land in the greater Chaco region for oil and gas development. Many of these parcels, in the Counselor-Ojo Encino-Torreon Tri-Chapter area, include cultural and ceremonial sites.
The nominated parcels all involve Navajo allotment lands with federally owned minerals — also known as a split estate. Although the surface rights are privately owned tribal lands, the federally owned minerals have precedence when oil and gas industries express interest.
This past spring, the BLM proposed leasing 2,122 acres in the greater Chaco area, then removed the nominated parcels, admitting they lacked sufficient tribal consultation. Now, the BLM is moving forward with their nomination after reducing the acreage from 2,122 to 843.
The Rio Grande Chapter joined a coalition of groups to launch protest comments against the nomination of these parcels. With your help, we generated thousands of comments against the BLM’s “Findings of No Significant Impact” report.
While the BLM is still working on its Resource Management Plan-Amendment, it has yet to do a thorough environmental analysis on the impacts on the environment or surrounding communities of horizontal drilling in the Mancos-Gallup Shale formation. The agency also failed to do a thorough survey of sacred sites. Instead, the BLM is fast-tracking leases and permit applications to drill by completing individual Environmental Assessments. The BLM continues to violate the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.
To date, there are more than 200 fracked wells in the greater Chaco area. The BLM has approved an additional 160 more. One of the latest fracking wells is within 1,500 feet of multiple residences, and the approval process for the well lacked an Environmental Justice analysis.
Groups working to address the impacts of fracking on local communities continue to forge ahead with the Health Impact Report. Though still in its early stages, Counselor outreach representative Kendra Pinto has been able to collect testimonies from impacted community members. Since methane and volatile organic compounds are leaked, vented and flared throughout the oil and gas process, degrading air quality, the next stage will be to collect toxic air emissions in close proximity to resident’s homes.
You can help prevent more fracking: From October 19 to November 17, the BLM will accept protest comments against the lease sale of the 843 acres, followed by a formal 30-day protest period that begins November 18. We plan to join our coalition partners in launching a full-on charge of comments and need your help to make an impact. Personalizing your comments is the most effective way for the BLM to consider them.
Learn more: Watch a video on fracking in the greater Chaco area and please share with others.
Photo courtesy of Carol Davis.