Garcia Richard plans moratorium on new oil, gas leases on state land near Chaco

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard wants more renewable energy development in New Mexico.

FARMINGTON — State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard announced plans Wednesday to issue a moratorium on oil and gas leases on state trust land near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in the upcoming weeks.

However, this would not impact the majority of lands surrounding the archaeological site.

There are about 900,000 acres of land within the 10-mile federal buffer zone surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park. About 10 percent of that land is state trust land, according to the State Land Office.

Angie Poss, a spokeswoman for the State Land Office, explained in an email that there are many split estates, meaning the surface owners and the subsurface owners are different. The state owns 72,776 subsurface acres in the Chaco buffer zone.

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Poss said only a few companies have been actively pursuing oil and gas production in the Chaco area.

Most of the land in the San Juan Basin is managed by either the Bureau of Land Management or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor, left, and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, check out a portion of the park while on a hike, Monday, June 29, 2015, at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

McEntyre said it is still uncertain how much the upcoming executive order could impact the oil and gas industries in the San Juan Basin.

“Our land, our people, and our rich cultural history are sacred,” Garcia Richard said as she announced plans, according to a press release from Wild Earth Guardians. “They deserve our protection."

She said her office will create a group focused on community outreach and education as well as engaging with stakeholders.

"For too long, we have held on to practices that ignored local communities, cultural resources, and the environment," she said. "This ends here.”

Dabney Ford, chief of cultural resources at Chaco, leads a hike through a portion of the park, Monday, June 29, 2015, at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Nageezi, N.M.

Garcia Richard announced those plans as activists delivered 33,000 protests to the Bureau of Land Management state headquarters in Santa Fe opposing the oil and gas lease sale of 10,000 acres of federal land in the Greater Chaco region as well as 1,000 acres near Carlsbad Caverns. The BLM did defer lease sales on 1,500 acres within that 10-mile buffer zone that were originally planned for the March sale.

"We do know that we can work to preserve our archaeological treasures and produce oil and gas at the same time," McEntyre said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at

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