By Tom Burkett
River Healers, New Mexico Watchdog
The River Healers have sent drones to multiple fracking sites in the Greater Chaco Area impacted by explosions, fires, spills and methane. Their drone videos of the area are now available at fractracker.org. Below is River Healer Tom Burkett’s account of visiting sites.
The Greater Chaco region is known to the Diné (Navajo) as Dinétah, the land of their ancestors. It contains countless sacred sites that date to the Anasazi and is home of the Bisti Badlands and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site.
Currently WPX Energy has rights to lease about 100,000 acres of federal, state, and Navajo allottee lands in the oil-rich San Juan Basin, which includes Greater Chaco. WPX, along with other fracking companies, plans to continue establishing fracking wells on these sacred lands, although the Greater Chaco community has spoken out against fracking and continues to call for more safety and oversight from New Mexico state regulatory bodies such as the Energy Mining and Natural Resources Department and Oil Conservation Division.
The River Healers pulled EMNRD records that show more than 8,300 spills in New Mexico had been reported by the fracking industry to EMNRD between 2011 and 2016, thousands more than reported by the Environmental Protection Agency. The records also showed how quickly reports of spills, fires and explosions were processed by EMNRD as “non-emergency” and accepted industry reports that no groundwater had been contaminated.
Daniel Tso, member of the Navajo Nation and elder of the Counselor Chapter, led River Healers to fracking sites in Greater Chaco that had reported spills and fires. Tso is one of many Navajo Nation members working on the frontlines to protect Greater Chaco, their ancestral land, and their pastoral ways of life from the expanding fracking industry.
Traveling in white trucks and cars, we blended in with the oil and gas trucks that dot indigenous community roads and group around fracking pads on squares of federally owned land. Years of watchdogging the fracking destruction on their sacred land was communicated through Tso’s eyes looking over the landscape for new fracking disruption and his calm voice.
Arroyos sweep around the fracking pads and display how quickly the area can flash-flood from rain that gathers on the striated volcanic ash hills of the badlands.
New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division has only 12 inspectors in charge of overseeing more than 50,000 wells scattered across 121,598 square miles of New Mexico’s terrain. Even more problematic is that Ken McQueen, EMNRD cabinet secretary, formerly served as a WPX Energy vice president. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s appointment of McQueen compromises the state’s ability to impartially oversee WPX Energy and regulate the fracking industry.
Go to fractracker.org to learn more and see drone footage.
Drone surveillance of fracking sites in Greater Chaco show how quickly the fracking industry has exploited a state government tied to the interests of a booming and unchecked resource-extraction industry. In Greater Chaco this element of time is more deeply understood through the lens of the indigenous community.
The Anasazi Kivas in Chaco Canyon took over 300 years to construct, while drill rigs such as Cyclone 32 take less than 10 days to drill 6,500 ft wells in the canyon plateau. We hiked 12 miles of the sacred Chaco Wash, pulled water samples, and saw the red palm of the Supernova Petrograph clinging to the understory of the canyon wall, clearly taking notice of what is happening above.
We deeply thank members of the Navajo Nation for inviting us into their lives, and our hearts stand with them in solidarity. Protect Greater Chaco! Dooda Fracking!
Drone surveys show Lybrook Elementary School only 1,600 feet from a WPX Energy fracking site. The crude oil tanks of the site can be seen from the classroom windows of the school. The elementary school was moved to this location in 2006 because it was right across the highway from a large and expanding natural-gas plant and had to relocate elementary students to a safe location.
Although the WPX Energy site is established on federal land, this area of Counselor, N.M., is referred to as “The Checkerboard” because of the quadrants of federal land that break up tribal land. The five well heads are highlighted to show that these pockets of federal land are being fracked with a high concentration of wells. By drilling multiple wells in one pad location, fracking companies are able to quickly drain the plays of crude oil under the the Greater Chaco Area and avoid signing contracts with the native property owners who live and attend school in the area they are fracking.
Featured image from fractracker.org.