Environmental groups appeal BLM leasing in Greater Chaco area

Move challenges lease sales of 4,400-plus acres

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
  • Several of New Mexico's federal lawmakers sent a letter to the BLM asking for a deferral until an updated study is completed.
  • The San Juan Citizens Alliance says the Department of the Interior has repeatedly ignored requests for moratoriums.
  • The lease sale is scheduled for March 8 and includes 25 parcels in northwest New Mexico.
Chaco Canyon

FARMINGTON — Several environmental groups are challenging the Bureau of Land Management over the leasing of additional acreage in the Greater Chaco area for fracking.

The Western Environmental Law Center and seven co-signing environmental groups filed an administrative appeal on Jan. 3 challenging the lease sales of more than 4,400 acres in northwest New Mexico, according to the appeal. The 25 parcels of land, which would be open to drilling and fracking, are scheduled to be sold online on March 8.

The National Parks Conservation Association has also filed an appeal to the March 8 sale and two other similar sales, opposing developments “that could harm (the) natural, historic and cultural resources” of six national parks in New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The Western Environmental Law Center’s appeal states that the land should not be leased until the BLM completes an updated resource management plan and environmental impact statement regarding the March 8 sale, arguing that the BLM is relying on studies that were completed in 2003.

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Several members of the state's congressional delegation — including Sen. Martin Heinrich, Sen. Tom Udall, Rep. Michelle Luján Grisham and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, all Democrats — sent New Mexico BLM Director Aden Seidlitz a letter on Dec. 19 requesting a deferral of the March sale until the BLM finishes an updated RMP and EIS.

The appeal also implores the BLM to take into account “existing, new and revised national policy on climate change” in its decision making.The appeal states that the BLM “fails to take a hard look at the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of oil and gas leasing and development.”

The San Juan Citizens Alliance is a party to the appeal, and energy and climate program manager Mike Eisenfeld said the U.S. Department of the Interior has ignored moratorium requests and failed to prepare planning documents in regard to oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco area.

“Despite the recognition that consultation and planning has yet to occur, ... DOI continues to lease lands for oil and gas development and approve new oil wells and pipelines where communities, people, environment and heritage are repeatedly sacrificed,” Eisenfeld stated in an email. 

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WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe -based environmental group that jointly filed the appeal, said the cultural significance of the Greater Chaco area is at risk because of oil and natural gas developments, and the federal government has been ignoring protests from Native Americans.
“(U.S. President Donald) Trump and (Secretary of the Interior Ryan) 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,” Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaign manager for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release. “Nowhere is it more evident that for this administration, profiteering trumps all shreds of public protection and process.”

The BLM did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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