We must protect the Greater Chaco area from future oil leases

This week, Environment New Mexico joined a coalition letter that expresses our support to Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy for language included in the House Natural Resources Committee version of the budget reconciliation process.

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Virginia Carter
Conservation America Campaign, Associate

Author: Virginia Carter

Conservation America Campaign, Associate

Started on staff: 2021
B.A. in Political Science and Visual Arts from Eckerd College

Virginia works to protect our public lands in the Four Corners region from dangerous oil drilling and mineral mining. In her spare time, Virginia likes backpacking, scuba diving, volunteering at Mission: Wolf, and crafting and sewing.

Photo: psyberartist via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Chaco Canyon is an amazing place for hiking, stargazing and exploring ancient pueblos that are more than a thousand years old. In fact, the pueblos in Chaco Canyon are so important they have been designated a World Heritage site, and the night sky is so dark and the stars are so bright that it has been designated a dark sky site. The area is culturally, historically, and biologically significant. We must protect the Greater Chaco area from future oil leases. It is imperative that we do so to protect the health of the community as well as to preserve the natural biodiversity of the region.

This week, Environment New Mexico joined a coalition letter that expresses our support to Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy for language included in the House Natural Resources Committee version of the budget reconciliation process. If passed, the bill would withdraw federal lands and minerals within roughly ten miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Chaco Canyon) from future oil and gas leasing. It would also nullify any inactive leases and require the leaseholder to pay for clean up. 

You can read the full letter below: 

September 27, 2021 

 

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy: 

On behalf of the Greater Chaco Coalition, we are writing to express our support for language  included in the House version of the reconciliation bill that would withdraw federal lands and  minerals within roughly ten miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Chaco Canyon)  from future oil and gas leasing. This is an extremely sensitive area, and of significant ongoing  importance to the 20 Pueblos of New Mexico and Texas, which have repeatedly asked the  federal government to permanently protect federal lands surrounding Chaco Canyon from oil and  gas activity. 

By withdrawing these lands from further leasing, Congress would honor the wishes of Pueblo  communities. 

Additionally, this withdrawal, would prevent oil and gas companies from burdening  communities with additional reclamation costs. According to a recent study from the New  Mexico State Land Office, there is currently an $8 billion gap between the amount of money that  oil and gas companies have posted to cover reclamation costs in New Mexico and the actual  amount of those costs – and that’s just for non-federal lands. On federal lands, based on  estimates from the Government Accountability Office, that shortfall – i.e., the amount of the oil  and gas industry’s reclamation costs that could fall to communities – could range from $581.9  million to $4.6 billion. 

In northwestern New Mexico, where Chaco Canyon is located, this is not an abstract problem.  Over the past several decades, the Bureau of Land Management has leased most of this area for  oil and gas drilling, and tens of thousands of wells have been drilled. Many of these wells are  now inactive and reaching the end of their life cycles – and, according to a new study from the  National Parks Conservation Association dozens of these wells are located within thirty miles of  Chaco Canyon. By withdrawing the lands around Chaco Canyon, Congress would help ensure  that additional reclamation costs – costs that should be borne by industry – would not fall to  communities.

We are aware of the Navajo Nation Council’s concerns for what this withdrawal would mean for  Navajo mineral rights owners in the area. It is our belief, based on the fact that only federal lands  and minerals would be withdrawn, that those individuals would be able to fully exercise the  development rights they currently enjoy concerning their lands. 

Once again, thank you for including this important language in the House reconciliation bill. 

Sincerely, 

Greater Chaco Coalition 

Archaeology Southwest 

Conservation Lands Foundation 

Environment New Mexico 

National Parks Conservation Association 

National Trust for Historic Preservation 

New Mexico Wild 

US/ICOMOS 

The Wilderness Society

Virginia Carter
Conservation America Campaign, Associate

Author: Virginia Carter

Conservation America Campaign, Associate

Started on staff: 2021
B.A. in Political Science and Visual Arts from Eckerd College

Virginia works to protect our public lands in the Four Corners region from dangerous oil drilling and mineral mining. In her spare time, Virginia likes backpacking, scuba diving, volunteering at Mission: Wolf, and crafting and sewing.