BLM Resource Advisory Council hears updates on Chaco drilling and other energy projects

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
The entrance to Chaco Culture National Historical Park is pictured April 14, 2019, with Fajada Butte in the background.

AZTEC — The Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are in the process of reviewing more than 85,000 comments on the Farmington Field Office’s Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan Amendment.

The draft RMP amendment’s recommend action would allow for new drilling closer to Chaco Culture National Historical Park than is currently practiced. The BLM has been deferring leases within a 10-mile radius of the park.

While the recommend action could potentially spur oil and gas development in the area, a federal spending package signed into law in December prohibited the use of federal funding to new lease requests within the buffer zone until a cultural study has been completed.

Additionally, President Joe Biden has said he will end new leases on federal lands. However, neither the Biden administration nor the federal spending package were discussed during the resource advisory council’s update from the Farmington Field Office.

Dave Mankiewicz, who spoke on behalf of the Farmington Field Office, gave an update about the plan as well as other energy developments during the Northern New Mexico BLM Resource Advisory Council’s meeting that took place on Jan. 19 using Zoom. 

The RAC heard updates from various field offices in the northern region including the Farmington Field Office, the Taos Field Office and the Rio Puerco Field Office. 

Mankiewicz said the comments received will be used to revise the draft plan and release a proposed RMPA and a final environmental impact statement. That will begin a 30-day protest period. During that time, the BLM will also send the proposed plan and the revised environmental impact statement to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for a consistency review, and the BIA will provide Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez with the same opportunity. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt look out over Pueblo Bonito, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

If any inconsistencies are found or protests are raised, the BLM and BIA will resolve them and then release a record of decision. The BLM and BIA will each sign their own record of decision. 

"Once signed, the plan will become in effect. Our goal is to sign the ROD in June of this year," Mankiewicz said.

While the recommended decision in the environmental impact statement would allow for increased drilling, the EIS also includes various alternatives including one that would prioritize protecting archaeological and cultural resources.

Additionally, Mankiewicz provided updates on other energy development in the field office boundaries including the San Juan Mine. Mankiewicz said the San Juan Mine is scheduled to stop mining operations in April. The BLM Farmington Field Office's inspection and enforcement's solid minerals staff inspects coal mines in San Juan County.

Coal pours out of a conveyor belt, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, at the San Juan Mine in Waterflow

Public Service Company of New Mexico, which operates the mine’s sole customer, plans to end its operation of the San Juan Generating Station in summer 2022. While Enchant Energy hopes to take ownership of the power plant and keep it operating, it has not yet finalized a coal supply agreement with the San Juan Mine’s owner, Westmoreland.

PNM plans to use stockpiled coal reserves to operate the San Juan Generating Station.

Other topics highlighted in the Farmington Field Office's presentation included a Photosol US solar array that will be developed on BLM lands and the management of wilderness areas, including the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah, which was changed from a wilderness study area to a wilderness area in 2019.

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

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