Chaco Coalition challenges BLM

By Teresa Seamster

March 11, 2015, was 108 years to the day that President Theodore Roosevelt declared Chaco Canyon to be a historical monument in 1907. The threat to Chaco in that time was the looting of archaeological treasures and sacred artifacts. Today, it is ramped-up oil and gas development, especially fracking and contaminated water supply.

On March 11, WildEarth Guardians, Western Environmental Law Center, Diné CARE and San Juan Citizens Alliance, all groups in the Greater Chaco Coalition, filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management challenging its approval of more than 100 oil- and gas-drilling permits in the San Juan Basin near Chaco Cultural National Historic Park.

Representatives from 34 Navajo organizations and environmental groups, including the Rio Grande Chapter, rallied at the Roundhouse in March to protest BLM permits to drill in the area.The day the lawsuit was filed in federal court, the larger coalition held a press conference at the Roundhouse to inform legislators about the public’s concern and to thank Sen. Benny Shendo for his sponsorship of Senate Memorial 29, “Natural Gas Flaring and Venting,” in the Chaco area.

Tribes, environmentalists, archaeologists and residents have long criticized the idea of drilling near Chaco Canyon, a World Heritage site that includes a series of monumental stone structures that date back centuries. The area was considered a ceremonial and economic center for ancestors of many Native American tribes in the region.

“The Bureau of Land Management is not taking serious consideration of the sacredness of the greater Chaco region and the impacts on surrounding Diné communities as they continue to approve more drilling and fracking,” said Colleen Cooley with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment.

The BLM is in the process of updating its management plan for the San Juan Basin in the face of an expected shale-oil boom, and the groups are urging the agency to stop approving new drilling permits until the plan is in place.

In January, the BLM did postpone an oil and gas lease sale for more than 4 square miles in northwestern New Mexico, saying more time was needed to review public comments and concerns.The recently proposed Piñon Oil Pipeline could quadruple oil development and fracking near Chaco, adding another 8,000 wells. The impact on people and land could be enormous.

A full Environmental Impact Study and Mancos Shale Resource Management Plan are the first requirements the Coalition is requesting from the BLM. BLM has announced an initial Environmental Assessment will be completed this summer that could be a preliminary to a more in-depth Environmental Impact Study of the Piñon pipeline project.

Featured photo by SkybirdForever

Chaco Coalition challenges BLM
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