The Biden administration is moving forward with a 20-year ban on new oil and gas leasing near an Indigenous cultural site in New Mexico despite stark opposition from Native Americans in the region.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland finalized the action Friday which bans fossil fuel and mineral leasing within a 10-mile buffer zone around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. The ban ultimately amounts to a withdrawal of approximately 336,404 acres of public lands from mineral leasing near the site some Native Americans consider sacred.
"Today marks an important step in fulfilling President Biden’s commitments to Indian Country by protecting Chaco Canyon, a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have called this place home since time immemorial," Haaland said in a statement.
"The exceptional landscape in the Greater Chaco region has profound cultural importance," Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Tracy Stone-Manning added. "Today’s announcement marks an important step in ensuring Indigenous voices help inform the management of our public lands."
The action comes nearly two years after the Department of the Interior (DOI) and BLM first proposed the leasing moratorium within the 10-mile radius at the Chaco Canyon site.
However, the proposal has been met with fierce opposition from the nearby Navajo Nation, local officials and energy producers.
In 2021, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer penned a letter to President Biden, warning it would have a "devastating impact" on tribal members who have a financial interest in drilling in the area. And last year, the San Juan County, New Mexico, board of commissioners passed a resolution opposing the DOI administration proposal.
While DOI stated Friday that the action won't impact existing leases or production on those leases, opponents of the buffer zone said it would indirectly make Indian-owned allotments worthless. In their 2021 letter, Nez and Lizer wrote that extracting fossil fuels from existing often requires "horizontal lateral crossing of two to four miles of subsurface" through federal land impacted by a ban.
In an effort to reach a compromise, the Navajo Nation endorsed a five-mile buffer zone floated by energy industry stakeholders. However, in a recent 15-1 vote, the Navajo Nation's resource and development committee passed a resolution stating the tribe would oppose any buffer zone.
"The Chapters recognize the detrimental economic impact to the Navajo allottees should a buffer zone of any size be imposed around Chaco Canyon," the resolution stated. "If a buffer zone is adopted, the Navajo allottees who rely on the income realized from oil and gas royalties will be pushed into greater poverty."... (Read more)
Submitted 121 days ago