image of Oil and gas fields near Chaco

By Miya King-Flaherty, Chapter Public Lands fellow

In June, the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would postpone a planned lease of three Chaco Canyon-area parcels intended for oil and gas development until at least January.

But the BLM’s Farmington Field Office has already approved nearly 300 wells for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and has leased roughly 91% of public lands in the greater Chaco Canyon area.

The BLM claims to thoroughly review the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of drilling in the area, but no report back to the affected community members has been made. Oil and gas companies continue to expand their operations in close proximity to residents’ homes, impacting air quality, community well-being, and the environment.

The BLM leases public lands four times a year for development, and nominated parcels require public, tribal and industry consultation.

The BLM removed the three parcels totaling 2,122 acres in the greater Chaco Canyon from the Oct. 19 auction, acknowledging that environmental analysis of the area and tribal consultation was inadequate.

This is a victory for now. The BLM is still working on its Resource Management Plan Amendment for development in the area, due in 2018.

Efforts to protect Chaco Canyon, the surrounding communities and the environment are gaining momentum. Chairman Delegate Jonathan Hale from the Navajo Nation’s Health, Education and Human Services Committee recently proposed legislation to ban fracking. Although opponents of the legislation say there is no scientific basis for banning fracking on the basis of health impacts, local communities are working with other organizations to highlight the health and environmental impacts felt by their communities.

On May 23, the Sierra Club, Counselor Chapter House, McKinley Community Place Matters, Diné CARE and other community leaders hosted an information-exchange meeting on fracking and its impacts on human health, land, water and the environment. Community members also shared their concerns. Increased rates of cancer, respiratory problems, poor air quality, and water contamination were some of the concerns raised.

The meeting resulted in a Health Impact Report draft. The report will be used to support a request to the BLM Farmington Field Office to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement for the greater Chaco Canyon area.

The report will lead to a fuller health assessment that will be used to inform Navajo Nation delegates, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the White House Council on Environmental Equality and our New Mexico Congressional delegates about the impacts of fracking on communities, the land, and the environment in the area.

Image from San Jan Citizens Alliance.

BLM stalls Chaco leases 
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