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WildEarth Guardians Challenges Trump and Zinke’s Plans to Frack Chaco Canyon
Becca Fischer, WildEarth Guardians, (406) 698-1489, firstname.lastname@example.org
Santa Fe, NM – Today WildEarth Guardians challenged the Administration’s plans to lease an additional 4,400 acres of Greater Chaco land for fracking, as Trump and Zinke continue their onslaught against American public lands, offering up one of America’s most important landscapes to the oil and gas industry.
WildEarth Guardians, along with the Western Environmental Law Center, Amigos Bravos, the Center for Biological Diversity, Chaco Alliance, Dine Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Sierra Club filed an administrative appeal, also called a “protest,” challenging the 25 lease parcels slated for sale this March. The agency plans to auction off 4,434.37 acres for more drilling and fracking in an online sale on March 8th.
“Trump and Zinke demonstrate zero regard for indigenous rights and environmental protection as the assault on sacred lands echoes throughout Greater Chaco and as its inhabitants – predominantly indigenous communities who live and work in the area – continue to feel the impacts of further encroachment by the fossil fuel industry,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner with WildEarth Guardians. “Nowhere is it more evident that for this Administration, fossil fuel profiteering trumps all shreds of public protection and process.”
As close as the US gets to Egypt’s pyramids, Greater Chaco houses the largest collection of ancient-Puebloan sites and is home to ancestral and contemporary Native American tribes, including Diné (Navajo) and Pueblo Peoples, that rely on the land to sustain their livelihoods and for traditional and ceremonial practices. While ancient sites within Chaco Culture National Historical Park remain protected, 91% of the Greater Chaco landscape is currently leased for oil and gas. Numerous Great Houses and cultural sites outside of the Park’s boundaries, hundreds of miles of ancient ceremonial roads, wilderness areas, and areas of critical environmental concern have already been impacted by over 23,000 active oil and gas wells in the region, and two massive mine-to-mouth coal-fired power plant complexes—the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant, and the San Juan Mine and San Juan Generating Station. The adverse impacts of such development on the area’s air, water, land, and human communities cannot be overstated.
Requests from Navajo Nation and over fifteen Navajo Chapter Houses, All Pueblo Council of Governors, National Congress of American Indians, and countless other constituents calling for a moratorium on new hydraulic fracturing-related activities in Greater Chaco remain unanswered as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management continues to issue hundreds of drilling permits across the Chaco landscape.
“With this latest giveaway of public lands, not only is the Trump Administration ignoring Tribes, the agency is also compromising our cultural resources, our climate, clean air, clean water, and wildlife,” said Becca Fischer, Climate Guardian with WildEarth Guardians. “The Administration may be relying on ‘alternative facts’ to justify its positions, but as Guardians stated in the protest, ‘Although the Trump administration is implementing a drastically different set of priorities with respect to action on climate change, this does not alter the fundamental math and science of the challenges we face.’ ”
In December, over forty groups delivered a letter to New Mexico’s U.S.Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich calling for bold leadership to protect Indigenous rights and champion landscape level protections and transition alternatives for the sacred Chaco region. Advocates hand-delivered “Just Transition” letters to district offices across New Mexico at the beginning of the Congressional holiday recess.
On December 19, Senators Udall and Heinrich, as well as U.S. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan and Congresswoman and New Mexico Gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham sent a letter to NM BLM State Director Aden Seidlitz requesting deferral of the March parcels until the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs complete the current resource management planning process.
“Across the West, the Bureau of Land Management is sidestepping the law, short cutting its reviews, and doing everything it can to lock the American public out of public lands,” said Fischer. “We’ve lost the ability to count on our federal agencies to safeguard public interest over private profit. Now, it’s up to the American public to fight for our land and lives.”
Concerns over multi-stage fracking coupled with horizontal drilling include water contamination from frack fluids, earthquakes from wastewater disposal, cultural and environmental degradation, and the social impacts on communities that result from an oil and gas industry invasion. Lacking any cumulative impact analysis, in 2017 and in 2018 the BLM has leased or is planning to lease more than 155,000 acres across the Greater Chaco cultural landscape in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.
In 2017, the U.S.Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctioned off more than a million acres of public lands for fracking in six Western states,and the pace of public lands giveaways is set to double in 2018. The BLM’s lease sales for the first half of the year already total almost 1 million acres.
See a copy of the protest filed.
See a copy of the Just Transition letter.
See a copy of the letter from the New Mexico Congressional Delegation.
WildEarth Guardians’ map of oil and gas leasing in Greater Chaco.