BLM defers sale of oil, gas leases in Chaco Canyon area
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management reversed course Friday, saying certain land near Chaco Culture National Historical Park would no longer be offered at an oil and gas lease sale in March.
Environmental advocates, tribal groups and Democratic lawmakers said last week they opposed the agency’s move to auction off land for oil and gas development within 10 miles of the culturally sensitive site.
The park is considered an epicenter for Native heritage, replete with ancient archaeological ruins, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Opponents of the sale have said federal officials failed to complete a land management plan that would in part study how deep horizontal fracturing would impact the region.
Lawmakers also criticized the Department of the Interior for moving forward with the sale amid the federal government shutdown and protest from Native stakeholders.
“We believe it is best to defer these parcels at this time,” Tim Spisak, New Mexico state director for the BLM, said in a news release Friday. “We will continue to gather information to inform the decisions we make about leasing in this area.”
About 1,500 acres will be excluded the federal lease sale, which is scheduled for March 28.
It is the third time the Trump administration has planned to sell parcels near Chaco Canyon and then deferred the leases.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., lobbed criticism at the Interior Department last week for planning to lease parcels near Chaco. The BLM is now taking the appropriate course of action, he said in a statement Friday, but “this stop-start, shoot-from-the-hip approach is not sustainable or in anyone’s best interest.”
Udall said the administration should develop a sustainable management plan that would prevent any land within 10 miles of the national park from being used for oil and gas extraction until the area can be studied to consider how the industry would impact public health and cultural sites.
Earlier this week, New Mexico state senators introduced legislation that calls for a four-year moratorium on all new fracking leases in the state. This period, the senators said, would give state agencies time to study health, seismic vulnerabilities, water contamination and environmental impacts from fracking.
The legislation also would require extensive reporting from numerous state agencies related to fracking, from worker injuries to greenhouse gas trends.
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association has said that fracking is a well-studied technology and that a pause on permitting, particularly amid an industry boom, would devastate New Mexico’s economy.
The BLM’s March lease sale will still offer 37 parcels in Sandoval, San Juan, Rio Arriba and Lea counties. A public protest period begins Monday.