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Coalition of Archaeological and Environmental Groups: Save Chaco Canyon from Drilling and Fracking

September 4, 2013
Samantha Ruscavage-Barz (505) 401-4180
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#GreaterChaco, #KeepItInTheGround
Farmington, NM—A coalition of groups today urgently petitioned the Bureau of Land Management to safeguard Chaco Canyon, a cultural treasure and icon of the American Southwest, from oil and gas drilling and fracking by designating a 1.1 million acre protected area in northwestern New Mexico.

“Protection needs to come first in this culturally irreplaceable landscape,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, WildEarth Guardians’ staff attorney and Ph.D archaeologist. “With Chaco Canyon sadly in the crosshairs of the oil and gas industry’s shameless push to drill and frack across northwestern New Mexico, it’s imperative this world-renowned landscape and its cultural treasures be fully safeguarded.”

The petition, filed by the Society for American Archaeology, New Mexico Archeological Council, Chaco Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, calls on the Bureau of Land Management to designate a “Greater Chaco Landscape” Area of Critical Environmental Concern because of its cultural significance, wilderness characteristics, remoteness, and undeveloped nature.

The petition calls on the Bureau of Land Management to prohibit new oil and gas leasing in the Area and to cancel existing oil and gas leases in the Area once they expire.

The Area would surround the current Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which is managed by the National Park Service. Maps showing the boundary of the proposed Area and other information can be downloaded here >>

Following on the heels of a Bureau of Land Management plan to lease more than 15,000 acres for oil and gas drilling and fracking near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the petition aims to secure greater protections for the surrounding landscape. As an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, the Bureau of Land Management would be required to manage the area to protect Chaco Canyon from the sights, sounds, and smells of oil and gas drilling and fracking.

“Chaco Canyon simply can’t be protected unless the landscape is protected,” said Anson Wright, Coordinator of the Chaco Alliance. “This isn’t just about protecting ruins, it’s about protecting a cultural universe that defines our American heritage.”

Although some oil and gas development has encroached near Chaco, the area has remained relatively undeveloped. In a nod to the undeveloped nature of the area, the Bureau of Land Management yesterday announced it is deferring oil and gas leasing plans for a number parcels near Chaco in order to assess wilderness characteristics. Despite the announcement, the Bureau is still proposing on January 22, 2014 to lease at least three parcels near the National Historical Park and has only proposed to defer, not outright cancel, their overall leasing plans.

“Wilderness and culture are intertwined at Chaco, so we’re pleased to see the Bureau of Land Management taking a close look at the wilderness character of this undeveloped landscape,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Still, we need certainty that oil and gas leasing will not occur.”

The proposed Area encompasses more than 1.1 million acres, 43% of which includes lands and minerals managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Currently, 158,685 acres are leased for oil and gas development.

The cultural significance of the landscape is undisputed. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, as well as nearby Aztec Ruins National Monument and five Chaco Culture Archaeological sites on Bureau of Land Management land are designated as World Heritage Sites. Despite this, the Bureau of Land Management has not adopted any specific standards to ensure its management of public lands outside the National Historical Park do not permanently impair the region’s cultural values. The Bureau’s latest oil and gas leasing plans have drawn fire from the National Park Service, tribes, environmental advocates, scientists, archaeologists and historical advocates, as well as local citizens over how closely they encroach upon Chaco.

An Area of Critical Environmental Concern is a special designation that the Bureau of Land Management can make for lands to protect significant historic, cultural, or other natural values. The Bureau currently has several small Areas of Critical Environmental Concern designated in northwestern New Mexico to protect cultural values, but none provide landscape protection for Chaco Canyon.

The groups have called on the Bureau of Land Management to respond to their petition within 90 days and to cancel its plans to lease near Chaco Canyon on January 22, 2014.

High resolution images of the lands slated to be impacted by oil and gas leasing can be downloaded here >>