For Immediate Release: March 2, 2018
On Thursday, March 2, the Interior Department announced the cancellation of an oil and gas lease sale near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site in northern New Mexico. The leases would have auctioned off an additional 4,434 acres in the Greater Chaco region for industrialized fracking, exposing local communities to increased pollution and threatening ancient ruins considered sacred by Indigenous Nations.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had planned to move forward with the leases based on an outdated Resource Management Plan that was written before new fracking methods were feasible in the region, and without meaningful Tribal consultation or consent from Navajo Nation and Pueblos who consider Chaco sacred.
In response to public pressure, BLM announced the lease sale would be canceled until the agency can further consult with Tribes and local leaders.
Thousands of people have rallied in opposition to the lease sale, and 459 administrative protests were filed in opposition of the March auction, by far the most protests the state has ever received for an oil and gas lease sale. The Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors, National Congress of American Indians, 15 Navajo Chapter Houses, the New Mexico Legislature, and over 400,000 public citizens have requested a moratorium on drilling until health, cultural, and environmental impacts can be analyzed. New Mexico Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Lujan Grisham and Luján have also opposed drilling in the region.
The Frack Off Chaco Coalition, Pueblo Action Alliance, Dine-Pueblo Youth Solidarity, and The Red Nation had planned opposition events across the state in protest of the March 8 online auction. Events are still moving forward in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to reassert the need for proper planning and consultation in the ongoing resource management planning process.
This is the first wholesale deferral of an oil and gas lease sale in Zinke’s administration of the federal oil and gas leasing program. Greater Chaco advocates hope this is a positive step forward in respecting tribal sovereignty and protecting public health on public lands.
Statements in response from community members and organizations:
“Certainly, the lease sale cancellation is somewhat of a surprise but is welcomed news. The best news, however would be a moratorium on all leasing as the Resource Management Plan components are completed. The human, familial and community, as well as the health impacts remain as continuing unresolved issues. These are the real ramifications of oil and gas development. It is unfortunate the news did not include reference to the environmental justice aspects of the tsunami of development. We, the indigenous peoples will still be on the homelands when all the extraction explorers have left. We will be here.”
— Daniel Tso, former Navajo Nation Torreon Council Delegate and member of Counselor Citizens HIA- Hózhóógó na’adá Committee.
“I really hope BLM does consult with all the Tribes involved without any hesitation, as Counselor community members and our allies have requested. Those people stood up and put themselves out for this cause, and some of them have passed and are unable to witness this victory, but I believe they would be happy. Our fight does not stop here. As always we have to keep moving forward and harder.”
— Samuel Sage, Counselor Chapter House – Community Services Coordinator.
“We applaud Secretary Zinke for exercising restraint and to our Congressional leaders for beginning to follow through with their promise of responsible resource management for Greater Chaco. With over 91% of available lands in the region already leased for oil and gas, responsible resource management requires reigning in unchecked fracking and respecting tribal rights. The Interior Department has yet to follow through in adopting a plan to protect this sacred landscape, its people, our clean air and water, and our climate, but canceling this lease sale is the first step toward fulfilling that promise.“
— Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate & Energy Campaigner, WildEarth Guardians
“This is a major victory for the Navajo Nation, Pueblo tribes, and the thousands of people who have rallied to protect the ancestral landscape, and the living cultures of Greater Chaco. We thank our congressional delegation for stepping up and supporting our tireless efforts to protect Greater Chaco. However, we still need their support to protect the public health and safety of communities impacted from drilling and hope this results in an updated resource management plan that truly mitigates the impacts of fracking in the region. We will continue to fight to ensure that this special place and the people who live there are protected from expanded fracking.”
— Miya King-Flaherty, Our Wild New Mexico Organizer, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter
“We are happy that the Congressional Delegation has heard the concerns of the Pueblo Nations. Although, this is a small victory for the tribal nations, environmental organizations and grassroots efforts, the fight to end drilling in the Greater Chaco Region is not over. BLM must engage in meaningful Tribal consultation and most importantly, obtain free, prior, informed consent from ALL tribal nations who have spiritual claim to the region. BLM must be reminded that the living community of the Greater Chaco landscape are still experiencing adverse health impacts from the extractive industry. Pueblo Action Alliance will fight in solidarity with the Pueblo tribal nations and the Dine Tri-Chapter Houses as well with our non-indigenous allies.”
— Pueblo Action Alliance, email@example.com
“As of yesterday, the March 8, 2018, sale of 25 land parcels in the Greater Chaco Landscape has been CANCELED, pending cultural impact assessments of parcels in close proximity to Chaco Canyon National Park. The struggle does not end here — all impacted communities must stay engaged and DEMAND meaningful consultation, emphasizing that any continued development done without obtaining free, prior, and informed consent from all surrounding nations is illegal and will not go uncontested… However, this win is only a battle within an ongoing war: while we have avoided this attempt to dispossess Native lands and disregard Native lives, this contemporary Indian land grab is far from over- and not just in the Southwest.”
— Dine Pueblo Solidarity, https://www.facebook.com/
“The cancellation is just a start. We will continue to push our message to protect the people currently living in the Chaco area. Continuing to extract adds to the mounting problems of changes in our environment. Thank you to those who stood alongside us as we voiced our concerns.”
— Kendra Pinto, Navajo Nation Twin Pines Resident
“We thank Secretary Zinke for listening to the People of Mother Earth and cancelling the lease sales near our Sacred Chaco Canyon for further oil and gas exploration and development. We also thank Secretary Zinke for acknowledging the need to further understand and study the effects of oil and gas development on the Greater Chaco region’s communities and their way of life, sacred sites, cultural places, land, air and water. Many, many of us have worked tirelessly, including our U.S. Senators Udall and Heinrich, U.S. Representatives Lujan-Grisham and Lujan and NM State Representative Lente, to educate, bring focus and understanding to the importance of our Sacred Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and how important it is to us that we have an inhabitable New Mexico with clean Land, Air and Water – a Human Right. We hope that this acknowledgement is also the beginning of a meaningful and comprehensive consultative process with the People, Tribes and stakeholders where we will find a meaningful solution to protecting Chaco Canyon, New Mexico and Mother Earth.”
— Terry A. Sloan, Director, Southwest Native Cultures
“For the families, animals, plants and trees who for too long felt silenced. We have energized the potential of humankind, may we not stop here but embrace the moment where our collective voices, prayer and persistent efforts brought awareness and consideration needed for all of us and our intentions of protecting Mother Earth and the journeys yet to be lived.”
— Eileen A. Shendo, Jemez/Cochiti Pueblo, Co-Founder StrictlyRoots Greenhouse.
“Over 100 members of Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens submitted administrative protest letters opposing this lease sale and the potential impacts of fracking on the Chama watershed. We applaud BLM for finally acknowledging that more studies will be required before drilling where underground and surface water impacts are not well known and cannot be generalized across the Continental Divide.”
— Peggy Baker, Rio Arriba Concerned Citizens
“Deferring these parcels was the right, and indeed only legally defensible decision. Necessary safeguards, analysis, and Tribal consultation must take place before we consider any further leasing and development of Greater Chaco’s treasured landscapes. Often lost in these discussions, just as industrial oil and gas extraction threatens Greater Chaco’s significant cultural and archaeological resources, it likewise harms the area’s living Native communities greatly and unjustly.”
— Kyle Tisdel, Climate & Energy Program Director, Western Environmental Law Center
“This is indeed a victory for the peoples of New Mexico. Grassroots organizing, public input, hours of hard work were all instrumental in moving this campaign forward. We continue to be vigilant in our efforts to protect our land, air and water and push for a just transition to renewables.”
“I’m grateful the Department of the Interior is finally responding to the concerns of the community. I hope they will have the courage to take things a step further. If historical sites are worth protecting, then aren’t the communities around them? Why protect a cultural legacy like Chaco while destroying the future of those who will inherit it?”
— Mark LeClaire, We Are One River
“We are thrilled for the people of the Greater Chaco Canyon Region, as they are finally being shown some respect for their health and the cultural significance of their lands. Chaco is one of the United States’ most profound monuments. The extraction of fossil fuels will never be more important than preserving antiquity and respecting our citizen’s well-being. We will not stop fighting for an end to fossil fuel development and a just transition to renewable energy in New Mexico.”
– Jim Mackenzie and Tom Solomon, 350 New Mexico Co-Coordinators
Daniel Tso, Counselor Citizens HIA- Hózhóógó na’adá Committee, (505) 258-6178
Samuel Sage, Counselor Chapter House – Community Services Coordinator, (505) 360-2090
Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate & Energy Campaigner, WildEarth Guardians, (267) 402-0724
Miya King-Flaherty, Sierra Club – Rio Grande Chapter, Our Wild New Mexico Organizer, (505) 301-0863