Celebrating Lease Sale Deferral, Pressing for Permanent Protections and Planning
For Immediate Release
Santa Fe—Dozens of Greater Chaco advocates rallied in front of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) state office in Santa Fe today to claim victory over last week’s announcement that parcels slated for auction near Chaco Culture National Historical Park would be deferred until further action. Impacted community members delivered resolutions from Navajo Nation Chapters and Pueblos, and more than 200,000 public comments pressing for a moratorium on fracking in the region, environmental and public health protections, and meaningful consultation and consent from tribes.
“We are thankful that Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan stood up for the impacted and marginalized communities and voiced the need for further tribal consultation amid the completion of the Resource Management Plan Amendment,” said Daniel Tso, member of the Counselor Citizens HIA-Hózhóógó na'adá Committee which studies health impacts of fracking in local Navajo communities. “The mass momentum of the peoples of the Greater Chaco Landscape including the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the TriChapter Alliance and Pueblo Action Alliance, the Dine-Pueblo Solidarity and the 100+ ally groups proved to be a most powerful voice.”
Yesterday, Greater Chaco advocates rallied in front of the state offices of New Mexican Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham to thank them for their representation and to remind them, “It’s not over.”
“This victory is yours,” Senator Udall’s State Director Greg Bloom read from a prepared statement. “I will continue to fight hard in the Senate to protect our citizens and our national heritage in and around Chaco.”
Despite receiving a record-breaking 459 protest comments, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had planned to move forward with the controversial leases based on an outdated Resource Management Plan that was written before new fracking methods were feasible in the region, and without meaningful Tribal consultation or consent from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.
Greater Chaco advocates moved forward with their planned rally at BLM state headquarters today reminding agency officials of their promise to Tribes and the American public to develop a new plan to protect Greater Chaco. Advocates hand delivered over 200,000 public comments from CREDO Action, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Food & Water Watch calling for a moratorium on drilling in Greater Chaco and for meaningful public health, cultural, and environmental protections.
“Deferring this lease sale is the first step in acknowledging that tribal and public voices must be a part of resource management decisions,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate & Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “But BLM continues to approve wells in the region using a woefully inadequate plan that explicitly doesn’t analyze industrial fracking impacts, and we’re redelivering the mountain of tribal and public protests to remind them what consultation and consent looks like.”
BLM Acting Chief of Communicators Derrick Henry received the protest comments, but disrespected tribal officials when he walked out on requests to stay and listen to community members concerns.
“If BLM really did consult with the tribes, the tribes would actually see some of their recommendations and concerns addressed, and changes being made,” said Samuel Sage, Community Services Coordinator for Counselor Chapter House on Navajo Nation. “We have sent Resolutions from Chapters to BLM wanting some questions answered. Questions like, how will BLM accurately assess current air quality conditions and determine appropriate mitigation measures to minimize potential air quality impacts from proposed fluid mineral development?”
In northwest New Mexico, over 91% of BLM’s public lands have already been leased to oil and gas development with more than 500 new industrial fracking wells approved without analysis. Much of the remaining 9% is in Greater Chaco, an area lacking proper air, land, water, cultural resource, and public health protections under the existing BLM Farmington Field Office’s 2003 Resource Management Plan (RMP).
A lawsuit currently stands asserting that drilling without a plan is illegal. The Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors, National Congress of American Indians, 15 Navajo Chapter Houses, the New Mexico House Legislature, and over 400,000 public citizens in total have requested a moratorium on drilling until the RMP amendment is complete.
Chaco Canyon is considered the sacred heart of the American Southwest and is the core of the Greater Chaco region. A thousand years ago, long before any European colonization, the Ancestral Pueblos called the Greater Chaco region home. Today, the region supports Navajo, Hopi, Apache, Zuni, Ute, and Pueblo communities.
“This deferral 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, said Miya King-Flaherty, Our Wild New Mexico Organizer for the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. “We will continue to fight to ensure that this special place and the people who live there are protected from expanded fracking.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
"We’re ecstatic that Zinke is calling for improved cultural consultation with local tribes and citizens. It’s a courtesy, and frankly legal requirement, that’s long overdue. We ask that Secretary Zinke also ensures proper consultation and public input occurs in the process of amending the area’s resource management plan amendment as well.”
“We will no longer tolerate the abuse of sacred places and the total disregard for the health and wellbeing of people living near fracking wells. Every act of extreme energy extraction serves to line the pockets of the mega wealthy and contributes to the progression of climate change. These deferments must become permanent cancellations of any drilling activities. We demand a just transition to renewables.”
“We applaud Sec. Zinke’s decision to cancel these lease sales to allow time for cultural consultation. But if Zinke was even remotely qualified to run the Interior Department he would not have proposed fossil fuel lease sales in the Greater Chaco Landscape in the first place. Zinke must now heed the calls of New Mexican Puebloans, other local leaders and the more than 175,000 CREDO members calling on him to take this short-sighted lease sale off the table entirely.”
"The Greater Chaco area is rich in historical, spiritual and cultural sites. They are not only located in the protected World Heritage park, but many of the sites are still being explored. At the same time, fracking roads are criss-crossing over the top of ancient lines and roads created by the first Americans. In addition, the fracking that is happening in the area endangers the lives of the people, animals and plants. We are calling for a halt on all fracking until the proper environmental, cultural, social, and land impact studies have been completed."
“We only ask BLM to uphold their responsibilities to assure suitable protections for the region, by comprehensively analyzing impacts of existing and potential oil and gas development on public health, local quality of life, cultural resources, environmental resources, and climate change."
“Our grandchildren deserve a place to live."
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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."
“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?"
“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.”
“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.”
"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.”