By Teresa Seamster, Northern New Mexico Group, and Robert Tohe, Our Wild America
A massive surge of approvals by BLM and the Oil Conservation Division for oil companies like WPX and Encana to drill closer to native communities near Chaco Canyon led to a recent meeting of concerned groups with U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s legislative staff in Santa Fe.
Sierra Club, Navajo allottee and former councilor Daniel Tso, staff member Robert Tohe and Western Environmental Law Center advocates met with Udall staffer Anthony Sedillo in September, detailing the problems faced by Navajo residents in the Lybrook, Counselor and Nageezi communities.
First, the amount of acreage that has been leased and approved for drilling both north and south of the Chaco Cultural National Historic Park has jumped to more than 68,000 acres of new development since January.
Second, the Oil Conservation Division (OCD) recently approved 62 wells in the near vicinity of the Nageezi Chapter House, placing residents in close proximity with a massive swath of drilling and fracking sites.
Third, the testimony of WPX’s lawyer in August shows that “due diligence” in notifying Navajo allottees of the company’s lease agreement and intent to drill on their land was woefully inadequate, consisting of a single mailing to unverified addresses with no follow-up to thousands of landowners. Further, a single public meeting in Farmington was attended by only a few dozen people due to the long distance from affected communities and lack of notification in any Navajo-language media outlets, radio or local newsletters.
Tso, of Ojo Encino, summed up what many residents are seeing:
“The approvals by OCD look like a quilt of units equaling more than 68,000 acres of BLM and Individual Indian Allotments. The directions of the horizontal drilling on the approved units look like circuit boards.”
Testimony has been submitted to the Oil Conservation Division of people experiencing nausea, sudden severe headaches, chest tightness and many other health problems. There are no safeguards for Lybrook Community School, half a mile from a big operations yard that has four flaring stacks.
Tom Singer of Western Environmental Law Center said upcoming EPA methane standards can help protect communities by covering a greater geographic area of methane’s footprint from oil and gas emissions, citing ozone and toxic emissions over the Albuquerque South Valley. He said BLM’s current “voluntary reporting” standard, wherein only 10 out of more than 450 companies are reporting fracking ingredients, is inadequate.
Tso told Sedillo that the Navajo Nation has little to show in tangible benefits for all this — no new schools, paved roads or hospitals.
“The tsunami of fracking activity, when it is actually seen, felt and tasted, will be too late, “ Tso said. “Over 150 wells and companion tanks of produced water and crude oil and compressors and the connecting pipelines will be the overcape of the pristine scenery — a devastated landscape.”
A joint letter has been prepared to Udall urging a halt to new drilling until the BLM completes the Mancos Shale-San Juan Basin Resource Management Plan amendment and related environmental-impact study. Also, the groups are requesting congressional support for the Navajo Chapter House resolutions to request mitigation of cumulative impacts of polluted water, toxic air emissions, incessant noise, light pollution, oil spills, severe land-surface damage and destroyed sacred sites resulting from this intense ongoing development.
WPX has made a request to BLM to construct a pipeline to transport crude oil, natural gas, produced water and liquid hydrocarbons from West Lybrook to its central delivery point. The BLM’s public-comment period ends Oct. 16. Western Refining has requested a crude-oil pipeline from its Lybrook facility. The BLM’s public-comment period for that project also ends Oct. 16. To comment, go to BLM_NM_Comments@blm.gov. To get involved and learn more, contact Teresa Seamster or Robert Tohe, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.