Chaco National Culture Park is under siege
Sunday 3 October 2021 | 2 a.m
It’s no exaggeration to say that New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historic Park is under siege. A wave of oil and gas development threatens this ancestral site, recognized as one of the architectural wonders of the world and revered by Native Americans who consider it a living presence.
If you visit the region, you will immediately see the scourge that comes from the total production of oil and gas: more than 30,000 wells have been drilled throughout the region, but 10,000 of them are inactive and many will never be. clogged or recovered. This proliferation of wells is not unique; in Nevada, for example, the Bureau of Land Management also responds favorably to most proposals from oil and gas companies. In Mesquite, conservationists scored a rare victory when the BLM pulled 100,000 acres from a recent auction.
Near the Chaco, however, sacred landscapes have been turned into an industrial wasteland littered with rusty reservoirs and drilling platforms, and connected by now-abandoned roads and pipelines.
Almost as disturbing is that in 2014, NASA satellites detected clouds of methane from thousands of leaking wells and pipelines. The party responsible for the ongoing destruction is a federal agency – the BLM. It administers public lands extending for several kilometers around the Chaco.
The BLM has a long history of relying on industry and awarding concessions to oil and gas companies. But apart from these agreements with private companies, there are the tribes and their desires to protect ancestral sites.
With the arrival of the more open Biden administration, the newly reinvigorated tribal governments – including the All-Pueblo Board of Governors, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe – are calling for sweeping rental and selling reform. BLM Oil and Gas.
The claims of the tribes are fundamental: to be consulted upstream of rental proposals, and to participate as active partners in the management of their ancestral lands.
E. Paul Torres, former governor of Isleta Pueblo, calls the Chaco “a vital part of our present identity through an active pilgrimage, stories, songs and prayers that have been passed down to us by the ancestors whose footsteps we follow. today “. And Brian Vallo, governor of Acoma Pueblo, adds, âIf the department involves the tribes in planning and decision-making about leasing oil and gas early and often, our irreplaceable ancestral resources will be better protected.
In a newly released report by Archeology Southwest, a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Ariz., Archaeologist Paul Reed describes in detail the BLM’s failure to fulfill its trust responsibility to the Native Americans. Tribal governments are usually only ignored or consulted at the last moment, Reed noted, and when this happens, “key decisions have been made, leaving the tribes to bear the brunt of past agency decisions.”
The Reed Report recommends including tribal governments at every stage of the tenancy process. In addition, it recommends that tribal members and their cultural experts be empowered to conduct field surveys to identify cultural sites, seek alternatives to the proposed oil and gas development, and recommend mitigation measures.
A final recommendation concerns the essence of what meaningful regulation and enforcement requires: Oil and gas operators should be prohibited from disturbing the land in any way “until all tribal concerns are identified and successfully resolved â. So far, however, tribal proposals in this direction have fallen on deaf ears.
For example, in 2019, the New Mexico congressional delegation sponsored legislation to establish a cultural protection zone within 10 miles of the Chaco. There, the leasing of oil and gas on federal Crown lands would be prohibited.
The legislation was passed by the House by a vote of 245 to 174, to die in the Senate. The prospects for action in the current Congress remain uncertain. In the meantime, a new path to reform has opened up. The appointment by President Joe Biden of Native American Deb Haaland as Home Secretary is a first in the history of the department. She is a registered member of Laguna Pueblo and, as a former congressman from New Mexico, she co-sponsored the failed Chaco protection legislation of 2019.
Haaland has powerful management tools granted by the federal law of 1976 on land use planning and management. This law authorizes the secretary to close off tracts of public land to any form of mining concession for a period of up to 20 years. This paves the way for Haaland to protect the Chaco by doing what Congress failed to do – establish a 10 mile buffer zone around the magnificence that is the Chaco.
All she needs is an affirmative “let’s go” from the president. The tribes have been waiting for a very long time.
Bruce Babbitt is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to sparking a lively conversation about the West. He is a former secretary of the Department of the Interior and has also served as governor of Arizona.