An oil and gas lease sale that would auction off about 840 acres near Chaco Culture National Historical Park will proceed on Jan. 25 after five years of challenges from opponents.
The Bureau of Land Management announced this week that four parcels spanning Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties in New Mexico will be in an online auction at 9 a.m.
In 2012, the parcels were authorized for leasing by the Mineral Leasing Act and the BLM’s Farmington office’s 2003 Resource Management Plan, spokesman Zach Stone said.
The proposed sale immediately was met with opposition from a coalition of tribal members as well as environmental groups, who say energy development would affect sacred lands and adversely affect communities.
“That’s the purpose and reason for fighting it all along,” former Torreon council member Daniel Tso said of drilling’s risk to local residents. “They are opposed to it.”
As a result, the proposed sale was delayed three times over the past five years, and spurred the BLM office to launch an extensive community outreach effort to garner feedback.
After a review of Wednesday’s proposed lease sale, Tso and Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said the BLM did not effectively take public input into consideration.
“It’s an amazing contradiction to me,” Yazzie said. “They say they are getting input into the process from the local people, but at the same time, they seem to be proceeding with the sale, regardless of what comments they generate.”
Tso said tribal leaders will meet with BLM’s New Mexico state director, Amy Leuders, on Tuesday to plead their case again, with the hopes of delaying the sale for the fourth time or canceling it.
The tribal activists argue the BLM’s “environmental assessment” does not fully evaluate the impact of drilling in the area, whether it be health impacts to residents or damage to sacred lands.
And they are quick to point out the BLM’s 2003 Resource Management Plan was drafted before fracking technology became a commonplace form of extracting oil and gas reserves.
The BLM says in its environmental assessment that energy development in the region “is not expected to have significant impacts on the environment,” and that further evaluation is not necessary.
“We feel like there needs to be one,” Tso said of a more intensive evaluation of oil and gas extraction. “This assessment didn’t and does not address environmental justice aspects.”
The area around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the cultural center of the ancestral Puebloan people from about 900 to 1150 A.D., has become a hotbed for the dueling interests of energy development and conservation.
The closest parcel included in the BLM’s lease sale comes within about 20 miles of the park boundaries, BLM spokesman Stone said, and the total 843 acres are surrounded by oil and gas development.
Emily Bowie of the San Juan Citizens Alliance said 91 percent of the land known as the Greater Chaco area – the area around the park, rich in archaeology but not protected – is leased to oil and gas interests.
“If the BLM had done a better job with the environmental analysis, people wouldn’t be this upset,” Bowie said.
Stone said all leases within 10 miles of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park boundary have been deferred, and that there are stipulations on leased parcels that may address additional concerns.