Statement: Bills introduced to protect Greater Chaco Canyon from further drilling

Media Contacts

Ninety percent of the Greater Chaco Landscape has already been leased for oil and gas development 


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Sens. Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury introduced on Thursday the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act in both chambers of the United States Congress. If signed into law, the legislation will safeguard the cultural, historical and biological wonders surrounding Chaco Canyon National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. The bill comes after years of efforts by local Pueblo and tribal leaders, environmental advocates and elected officials to protect the wildlife habitat, environmental resources and sacred sites in the region from damage from oil and gas drilling. 

The bill’s introduction comes as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is holding an open public comment period on a proposal to protect roughly 350,000 acres of public lands surrounding Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. The BLM proposal would prevent new federal oil and gas leasing for the next 20 years. 

In response, Virginia Carter, Environment New Mexico’s conservation campaign associate, issued the following statement: 

“Chaco Canyon is a priceless wonder and should not be sold to the highest bidder. This living landscape is full of natural beauty, deep with culture and history. Oil and gas development in the region already pollutes air and water while threatening the elk, bobcats, wild horses and numerous other species that call this area home. 

Already 90% of the Greater Chaco Landscape has been leased to oil development, and more than 37,000 wells have been drilled, some near schools and people’s homes. This reckless drilling is putting oil profits above the health and safety of the community and the wildlife of the region. 

While we applaud the BLM’s proposed mineral withdrawal as a much-needed step to protect Chaco Canyon, permanent protections are necessary. Enacting the Greater Chaco Protection Act would safeguard the Chacoan landscape’s biological marvels, cultural resources, sacred sites and scientific values and protect the health and well-being of local communities beyond the 20 year protections proposed by the BLM.”