Guidelines developed for drilling near Chaco Canyon

By Susan Montoya Bryan
Associated Press
A final scoping report was released this week as work continues to redraft the management plan that guides development near Chaco Canyon.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal land managers have laid out their plans for weighing the effects of oil and gas development in northwestern New Mexico on everything from archaeological resources to light pollution.

The Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs released a final scoping report in mid June as work continues to revamp the management plan that guides development in one of the nation's largest basins.

More:BLM outlines drilling permit process on federal lands

Environmentalists and Navajo Nation officials have voiced concerns in recent years about the uptick of drilling in the San Juan Basin and the proximity of wells and roads to Chaco Culture National Historical Park and other cultural sites.

"There is hope that Greater Chaco and its communities are on the path to receiving the protections deserved," said Rebecca Sobel with the Santa Fe-based group WildEarth Guardians. "The bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs are moving in the right direction by taking seriously their duty to protect the American public and American resources."

The scoping report will set the stage for the numerous factors that will be considered as federal officials push ahead with their review. The overall planning process is expected to be done by 2020.

While fossil fuel development in the region has long been a target of environmentalists, the campaign to curb drilling has shifted focus in recent years from pollution concerns to the cultural ties that Native American tribes have to Chaco and the archaeological sites that are scattered across the northwestern quadrant of the state.

Earlier this year, the Navajos sought a moratorium on drilling and lease sales while the All Pueblo Council of Governors raised their own concerns.

The Bureau of Land Management has established a 10-mile buffer around the Chaco national park and officials say they will continue to offer government-to-government consultations with tribes to help inform the agency's decisions while the planning process is underway.

Federal officials have acknowledged that the management plan is in need of an update due to changing technologies that are expected to result in more wells and surface disturbances than was planned for more than a decade ago.

The planning area encompasses more than 6,500 square miles of federal, state, tribal and private lands spanning three New Mexico counties.