The U.S. Department of the Interior announced last week it will conduct further evaluation for future oil and gas development to address the concerns regarding Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
“For the time, the Bureau of Land Management’s Farmington Field Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Navajo Regional Office will jointly conduct an expanded analysis of management in the area that covers both public and tribal lands,” the announcement said.
For years, conservationists, tribal members and others have called for further scrutiny when it comes to planning future oil and gas development near Chaco, a rich archaeological site for the ancestral Puebloans.
The groups have argued that expanded energy extraction operations would destroy hundreds, if not thousands, of important, sacred sites throughout the mineral-rich San Juan basin.
“Today’s announcement is an important step forward toward addressing the long-standing concerns surrounding oil and gas development around Chaco Canyon,” Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor said in a prepared statement issued Thursday.
“BIA’s decision to join BLM’s planning effort as a co-lead reflects the complex land tenure around the park and demonstrates the Department’s commitment to ensuring that the region’s rich cultural and archaeological resources are protected.”
The BLM updated its resource management plan in 2014, but critics argued it fell short of protecting the vast network of tribal ruins outside the park’s boundaries, and failed to include BIA lands.
“This expanded effort will look at the whole planning area, and will include mineral leasing and development activity around Chaco Culture National Historic Park.”
Though the plan will look closer at future development, more than 90 percent of the region has already been leased for oil and gas extraction.
A 60-day public scoping period ends Dec. 20. Public meetings will be held in Shiprock, Bloomfield, Cuba, Crownpoint, among other New Mexico towns within the project area.