Tribal governments are working with archaeologists to identify thousands of culturally-sensitive sites and resources in the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico in hopes of preventing oil and gas development in the area from encroaching further onto the sacred landscape.
The New Mexico Political Report said the studies are part of a multi-pronged strategy to protect the area amid increased oil and gas leasing on federal lands in New Mexico. Under the Trump administration, oil and gas leasing on federal lands, including land in the Greater Chaco region, has increased fourfold in the state.
Last year, Congress passed a bill granting a one-year moratorium on oil and gas leasing within 10 miles of the Chaco Culture Historical National Park. That moratorium expires later this week on September 30.
Meanwhile, the deadline for public comments on a proposal that could see as many as 3,000 new oil and gas leases sold in the Greater Chaco landscape passed September 25. The deadline took place amid repeated calls made by tribal governments and members of the New Mexico congressional delegation for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to halt the proceedings until after the COVID-19 pandemic had ended and the virus is contained.
Acoma Pueblo Governor Brian Vallo expressed disappointment that BLM and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is also involved in the proposal, did not further delay the public comment period.
“We are very discouraged by the fact that these deadlines have remained in place, even while we have made numerous attempts, and have voiced even through our congressional delegations, the need to pause some of these activities as a result of the public health crisis,” Vallo said during a webinar about oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region.