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Huge coalition demands pause on oil and gas drilling in Greater Chaco region

February 22, 2022
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, 303-437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#FrackOffChaco, #GreaterChaco, #KeepItInTheGround, #PressStatement
Farmington, New Mexico—Over 125 Tribal, grassroots, national, and statewide organizations and businesses—including elected officials, scientists, and religious leaders—joined the Greater Chaco Coalition today in calling on Secretary Deb Haaland to immediately pause impending oil and gas drilling in the region while the Interior Department’s “Honoring Chaco” Initiative gets underway.

In a letter sent today, the groups stated, “we are gravely concerned that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is currently weighing the approval of dozens of new oil and gas development proposals that collectively could lead to the drilling of more than 100 new wells, the construction of miles of new roads, and new irreparable heavy machinery disturbance across hundreds of acres of lands in the Greater Chaco region.”

The groups followed up, “We simply ask that as the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management follow through with the Honoring Chaco Initiative, that reasonable steps are taken to protect the landscape, communities, and the cultural integrity of the region.”

The call comes as the Interior Department this week intends to hold public meetings to solicit feedback regarding its Greater Chaco protection plans.  While there is broad support for protecting the region, there is mounting concern over massive new drilling and fracking plans under consideration by the Department’s Bureau of Land Management, threatening to erode the pending “Honoring Chaco” initiative.

The Greater Chaco region is a living and ancient cultural landscape, spanning northwest New Mexico, southwest Colorado, southeast Utah, and northeast Arizona.  Today, Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the Americas, and yet for over a century, the federal government has quite literally treated the Greater Chaco landscape like a national energy sacrifice zone.

In recent years, the Greater Chaco region has faced growing threats from oil and gas extraction, which has brought drilling, fracking, and industrial development onto public lands and into Navajo communities.

For nearly a decade, the Greater Chaco Coalition has called on federal and state agencies to stop papering over problems in the region, and to finally fulfill promises to address the cumulative impacts of fracking, and to implement effective laws and regulations to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape and the people who live there.

Responding to the threat of unchecked oil and gas development  in the region, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland last year kicked off the “Honoring Chaco” initiative, a two-part process involving the withdrawal of federal minerals within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park and a new collaborative process to address the need for landscape-level management reforms.

In spite of the Honoring Chaco initiative, reports indicate the Greater Chaco landscape remains more threatened than ever by oil and gas drilling, fracking, and associated development.

Today’s letter to Interior Secretary Haaland and U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director, Tracy Stone-Manning requests the Department temporarily halt the approval of new oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region pending the completion of the Honoring Chaco initiative.

The groups leading the letter include Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Diné Allottees Against Oil Exploitation, Pueblo Action Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and many others.

Statements from signatories of the letter:

Tribal and Indigenous groups statements

“Chaco Canyon area is sacred and no drilling should take place anywhere in the vicinity of it, especially when conducted to run around the upcoming protective initiative.” – Tammy Parker, Environmental Specialist, Zuni Environmental Protection

“We are not allowing the continued disrespect of our sacred sites to anyone! All fracking leases must be halted.” – Deborah Jiron, Vice President, AIM Albuquerque Grassroots

“Protection of sacred sites ensures that our indigenous way of life continues to the next generation. We must protect Chaco Canyon and end our addiction to the extraction industry.” – Krystal Curley, Executive Director, Indigenous Lifeways

“I urge the Bureau of Land Management to respect Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s Honor Chaco Initiative and President Joe Biden’s call for a 20-year pause on new oil and gas leasing around Chaco Canyon and the Greater Chaco region and to stop issuing new oil and gas leases and permits  across the region, now.  There is a complete lack of respect for the will of the People at the New Mexico BLM offices in Santa Fe. Even after hundreds of thousands of protests filed, the BLM continues to sell our Sacred Chaco Canyon and sell our sacred Land of Enchantment to the highest bidder.” – Terry Sloan, Director of Southwest Native Cultures

“Breath of My Heart Birthplace is concerned about the ongoing health disparities facing Native families as a result of environmental violence from oil and gas extraction in our state. The intergenerational health of our Peoples requires a commitment to end the disproportionate impacts of pollution on Indigenous and land based pregnant and parenting families. We have the right to raise our children in a clean, healthy, safe environment, and to give love and care to ancestral places like Chaco Canyon that is their birthright. The 10 mile buffer must be enacted and is a start in protecting tribal cultural resources. It is vital that permanent protections and clean up must happen in the future to protect the Greater Chaco landscape and all vulnerable people and beings from further harm.” – Beata Tsosie, Organizational Director for Breath of My Heart Birthplace

“Working and living in the Arctic, we see the damage directly caused by fracking. We continue to have hundreds of small earthquakes in the Arctic Slope that have never been seen before. BLM needs to stop all oil and gas activities and protect our sacred sites and our future.” – Sarah Siqiniq Maupin, Director, Sovereign Inupiat For A Living Arctic

 “Mother Earth has transmitted her message through all walks of life that she may no longer be able to provide a habitable environment for over one million species. Fracking has been linked hundreds of times to the environmental catastrophe we see today. Cheyenne River Grassroots Collective stands with our relatives to the south in their fight for a clean, frack-free world.” – Tasina Sapa Win, President, Cheyenne River Grassroots Collective

Elected official statements

“Chaco Canyon is a World Heritage Site–it’s up to us to do everything in our power to preserve and protect it for generations to come.” – Alan Webber, Mayor, City of Santa Fe

Local groups, businesses, and professionals statements

“​​The Biden administration must protect our land, water, air and climate and stop the destructive practice of fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Expanding fracking anywhere within the Chaco region is an affront to the rights of our Indigenous communities and is a betrayal of the proposal to respect the cultural and historical Chaco site with a 10 mile buffer.” – Miguel Angel Acosta, Co-Director, Earth Care

“You can’t honor Chaco while at the same time open the floodgates for more fracking. Real protection for Greater Chaco means that Interior Secretary Haaland needs to show restraint and respect while following through with the Honoring Chaco Initiative.” –Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians

“Greater Chaco deserves heightened protection for the region’s sacred lands, and just–if not more importantly–for the region’s people and communities. To us, that suggests an immense need and opportunity for leadership from the federal government to foster a just and equitable transition for communities now dependent on oil and gas for revenue and jobs or who have borne the brunt of oil and gas impacts. Such a transition would offer rural communities and working families what they have never before been provided: the freedom to choose an economic pathway that is not shackled to an industry that harms the climate, public lands, or people.” – Rose Rushing, Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center

“It is time that the federal government include the Cultural Landscape of Chaco Canyon in the protection of this sacred and historical monument. The proposed 10-mile buffer has already been violated by extraction operations and little has been done about it. The constant violation of agreements with Indigenous people must be acknowledged and rectified.” – Elaine Cimino, Director, Common Ground Community Trust

“Greater Chaco Canyon is of enormous significance to those even beyond the Southwest. Since 1987, UNESCO has listed Chaco as a World Heritage site. Chaco is “an ancient urban ceremonial center that is unlike anything constructed before or since.” – Jim Mackenzie, Co-Coordinator, 350 New Mexico

“The Santa Fe Chapter of Veterans For Peace stands with our Indigenous brothers and sisters in demanding the immediate cessation of all oil and gas activities across the entire Greater Chaco Landscape.” – Kenneth Mayers, Chapter Secretary, Veterans For Peace – Santa Fe Chapter

“We strongly support protection of the Greater Chaco region and we appreciate the teamwork involved in safeguarding this vital land.” – Robb Hirsch , Executive Director, Climate Change Leadership Institute

“Our insatiable appetite for oil and gas is desecrating lands sacred to our Native peoples and damaging our fragile environment. It must stop now if we are to survive.” – Ruth Striegel, Green Justice team leader First Congregational UCC, Albuquerque

“The importance for all humanity of our blessed Chaco Canyon is recognized worldwide. The BLM cannot allow the permanent destruction of the land which will ensue with more fracking. “ – Charles D Goodmacher, Executive Director, Do Good LLC

“Pond Foundation is well aware of the seismic activity occurring and increasing in the Permian Basin in southeast New Mexico that has been linked to oil drilling activities. There have been several earthquakes in the area around Carlsbad in the past week, with the most recent one, although considered “weak” at magnitude 2.6, having occurred at 8:11am on the day this letter is being signed, Feb 18, 2022. To think this could begin taking place in the Greater Chaco region is unacceptable.” – Lola Moonfrog, President, Pond Foundation

“Chaco Canyon is a sacred place for Native Americans and many of us and must be protected.” – Glen Thamert, Coordinator, Jemez Peacemakers

“Due to the certain development of seismic activity in the area caused by injection of massive amounts of produced salt water down disposal wells that could be devastating to the ancient structures of Chaco Canyon, the Concerned New Mexicans Group is opposed to any permitting of oil and gas exploration and production or waste disposal within the greater region of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.” – William C. Renfro, Professional Geoscientist and Co-Founder Concerned New Mexicans Group

“We adamantly oppose approval of any new oil and gas activity in the Greater Chaco Region.” – Timothy Edward Duda, Director, Terra Advocati

“Our Fellowship unanimously opposes this desecration of sacred lands. We totally support and applaud the efforts of The Greater Chaco Coalition.” – Roxanne Richardson, President, The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Otero County

“How is the approval of fracking not in direct conflict with the mission of the Bureau of Land Management? The BLM mission reads “The Bureau of Land Management’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Fracking does not contribute to the sustainability of land, nor does it protect the lands for present and future generations.” – Mary Guiterrez, Director, Earth Ethics, Inc.

“Fracking is not healthy or safe for anything living. It poses a threat to those near and far from its wells and pipelines. It’s way past time to give up fossil fuels and develop and research more solar and wind energy.” – Sheila Fox, Business Owner, Notable Healing Self Care and Sound Healing

“Chaco Canyon is the American equivalent of the Giza Plateau in Egypt. As an international heritage site it should be protected from corporate greed of development.” – Ernest W Sturdevant, CEO/Owner, Sturdevant Music Studio

“I am advocating BLM and BIA continue to co-lead dialogue and negotiate with Tribes and elected officials until all voices are represented and a diplomatic agreement is made. Chaco Canyon is an UNESCO World Heritage site that we want to preserve for future generations. It is important we consider the long term effects of drilling on this landscape for a short sighted economic benefit.” – Kirsten Wolfe, Counselor and Interfaith Minister, New Earth Counseling

“The Greater Chaco Coalition has always stood for meaningful landscape protection (including environmental justice and public health protections) well beyond 10-miles of Chaco Culture National Park and we stand in support.” – Nancy Arenas, Founder, HeartnSole LLC

“Please protect the entire Greater Chaco Landscape.  We have a surplus of oil and gas drilling elsewhere and there is no need for additional oil and gas wells.” – Norman Norvelle, retired Environmental Scientist Staff Manager at State of New Mexico

“I was an Economist Planner who worked on PNM’s New Mexico Generating Station (near Chaco and Bisti)  Environmental Impact Statement in the 1980s. In my analysis, I came to the conclusion that the cost/benefit of a proposed coal fired power plant was not in the interest of New Mexico or the country. I ended up losing my job but the plant was never built.” – Ron Druva, Economist and retired BLM employee

Ally and national groups statements

“The threat posed by the BLM in approving fracking in the Greater Chaco region has the potential to become another Texas. Areas of the Permian are now “earthquake zones” where tremblers in the 3-4 range are common; where underground aquifers are contaminated with chemicals and hydrocarbons, and are now undrinkable. Fracking in Texas is life, and land altering; don’t let the same happen to the Chaco.” – John Beard, Jr., CEO, Port Arthur Community Action Network (PACAN)

“Those wells are an abuse against Mother Earth.” – Jessie Pauline Collins, Co-Chair, Citizens’ Resistance at Fermi Two (CRAFT)

“It is outrageous in this day of reckoning for our past mistakes trashing the planet that the BLM continues business as usual. They are threatening this cultural, historical, sacred and natural wonder for greed and exploitation. The people who live here are facing a direct threat to their health and safety.” – Wes Gillingham, Associate Director Catskill Mountainkeeper

“We have to protect our natural and historic treasures — and every living thing on the planet — from continued expansion of the deadly fossil fuel industry.” – Jean Tepperman, Co-Coordinator, Sunflower Alliance

“Fracking’s air and water pollution, road destruction, and vibrations all threaten the integrity of the Chaco Landscape.” – Ted Wolner, Chair, Environmental Concerns Committee, Kendal at Oberlin

“The United States must not allow the greed of fossil fuel corporations to harm the landscape of sacred sites around Chaco Canyon which has existed for hundreds of years prior to colonization.  A truly civilized country would treasure a sacred site, especially of this magnitude, and not allow any harm to come to it.  How short-sighted to even consider fracking near Chaco Canyon as the world transitions to clean energy.” – Pennie Opal Plant, Co-Founder, Movement Rights

“Truly honoring Chaco means respecting the wishes of Indigenous Peoples and respecting the land — moving forward with fossil fuel exploitation anywhere in the region would be a colossal mistake. The fact that we’re even facing this possibility shows that our federal fossil fuel leasing system is utterly broken. Such a system built around prioritizing the profits of fossil fuel companies can’t be adequately reformed — new permits and leases must be ended entirely, as President Biden promised when running for office.” – Collin Rees, U.S. Program Manager, Oil Change International

“The Biden Administration needs to back up its lofty climate promises with action. An easy first step is to stop defending the prior administrations’ reckless decisions that undermine Indigenous sovereignty and the integrity of ecosystems in the Greater Chaco region.” – Basav Sen, Climate Policy Director, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program

“Please protect this historical and important treasure. Pause the approval of new oil and gas activities in this area!” – Marilyn O’Boyle, Earth Web Chair, Earth Web at First Unitarian Church

“We have been stripped, gutted and fracked in my Appalachia Community.  Cabot Oil threatened my Ohio community with fifty thousand fracked wells forcing us to organize as we called them out for their shotty work in Dimock, PA.   It is well past time to move forward with renewable energy plans if we are to survive.” – Elaine Tanner, Program Director, Friends For Environmental Justice

“The Bureau of Land Management can truly honor Chaco and the greater region by permanently banning not only the proposed fracking wells for the area, but ALL fracking wells. It’s 2022 and we must end our reliance on fossil fuels. To do anything less when the CO2 atmospheric emissions are currently at 416ppm is at minimum, disrespectful, and at maximum, insanity.” – Carolyn Barthel, Executive Committee member, 350 Mass

“The Biden administration needs to stop the continued approval of leases for oil and gas exploration across the wider Chaco region and New Mexico. Anything less than a long-term solution that truly protects the health and cultural sites of New Mexico’s Chaco community is insufficient.” – Jorge Aguilar, Southern Region Director, Food & Water Watch

“Fracking threatens the fragile structure of Chaco National Park and once the Park is damaged or destroyed, there is no bringing it back.  This is not Disneyland.” – Laura Stokes, State Co-coordinator, Progressive Democrats of America Central New Mexico Chapter

“This proposal is too little, too late since most of the region is already locked into fossil fuel leases and even more fracking is planned. To curb catastrophic global warming the Biden administration must end federal fossil fuel expansion everywhere, now. It also needs to do right by communities in New Mexico and elsewhere who’ve borne the brunt of oil and gas pollution for decades.” – Taylor McKinnon, Senior Campaigner, Center for Biological Diversity

The Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico. Photo by John Fowler.


Other Contact
Daniel Tso, Chairman, Health Education and Human Services 24th Navajo Nation Council, danieltso@navajo-nsn.gov, 928-318-0039, Mario Atencio, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, mario.atencio@dine-care.org, 505-321-9974, Julia Bernal, Pueblo Action Alliance, julia.f.bernal@gmail.com, 505-220-0051