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State Land Office Archaeologist David Eck discusses the lack of surveys and current cultural resources policy. Hannah Grover, hgrover@daily-times.com

Chaco Canyon Land Office Working Group expresses interest in more archaeological surveys

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FARMINGTON — The State Land Office does not know where cultural resources are located on the millions of acres it manages. It is drafting a new policy that could require companies to do archaeological surveys before developing a lease.

“In very general terms, basically we don’t know what’s out there because very little of state trust land has ever been surveyed in any systematic way,” State Land Office Archaeologist David Eck told the Chaco Canyon Land Office Working Group during its monthly meeting on May 19 at San Juan College. “So it’s essentially a blank slate.”

Eck said the State Land Office needs to know what cultural resources, such as archaeological sites, are on state land in order to appropriately manage the land.

Eck said lessees are required to review records to determine what is already known to exist in the areas the project will impact. If the lessee, such as an oil or gas company, damages a cultural resource, the lessee could be fined.

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Eck said in the 20 years he has worked for the State Land Office there have been fewer than 10 lessees fined for damages to cultural sites.

Eck said there are some records existing that the oil and gas companies can find while doing these record reviews, but those resources are limited.

“We have good neighbors, they’re called the (Bureau of Land Management),” Eck said. “Any time any project uses any piece of BLM land to get to state trust land to do oil and gas development, they require a survey.”

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Eck said the safety net provided by the BLM means about 10 percent of state trust land in northwest New Mexico has been surveyed for cultural resources such as archaeological sites.

“But it is only 10 percent,” he added.

The All Pueblo Council of Governments maintains these BLM surveys are not always adequate. Policy Coordinator Marissa Naranjo said the BLM records and surveys are often outdated and lacking contribution from Puebloan people.

Next meeting planned for June 29

The Chaco Canyon Land Office Working Group plans on continuing discussions about archaeological and cultural sites on state trust land, especially land around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. This will be one of the topics during the next meeting at 1:30 p.m. June 29 at the Ojo Encino Chapter House.

Other topics on the next working group agenda will include cumulative impact models for making decisions on oil and gas leasing and alternative economic opportunities for state trust land, such as renewable energy development.

Industry group says oil and gas producers should be at the table

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Spokesman Robert McEntyre criticized the land office for not including oil and gas producers or industry representatives in the working group while environmental activists are members of the group.

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"She has not invited us to the table," he said.

McEntyre said the group could benefit from discussion with producers or industry representatives about how they are working to mitigate impacts to cultural resources.

He said it would be "reckless and irresponsible" for the land office not to engage with oil and gas industry on policy issues while hearing input from environmental groups.

Working group created by executive order

The working group was assembled to recommend alternative land uses near Chaco Culture National Historical Park or provide input on responsible oil and gas leasing policies the State Land Office could implement near Chaco Canyon, according to Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard.

The working group was created when Garcia Richard signed an executive order in April placing a moratorium on oil and gas leases within a 10-mile buffer of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

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Garcia Richard said she is required by the state constitution to manage the lands in a way that generate revenue for the state.

“If we’re not going to lease these lands for oil and gas, we have to do something with them,” she said.

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

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