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Before tourists began visiting Chaco Canyon from around the world, it was a destination for ancestral people. Hannah Grover, hgrover@daily-times.com

NMOGA calls measure political grandstanding

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FARMINGTON — Proponents of a Chaco buffer zone are cheering the U.S. House of Representatives passing a spending measure that includes a one-year moratorium on new oil and gas leases near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Congressman Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, worked to have a moratorium included in the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations package that passed the House on June 25. 

“Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park’s official boundaries,” said New Mexico Wild Executive Director Mark Allison in an email statement. “So lease sales by BLM in the surrounding area almost always mean the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat and dark skies.”

The Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President issued a statement on June 25 praising the spending measure’s passage in the House.

"The Greater Chaco Region is a living landscape, meant to be accessible for tribal communities to support the continuance of cultural practices vital to our present identity," Vice President Myron Lizer said. "The bill protects the land, structures, and environment from any unanticipated adverse effects associated with unchecked oil and gas development in the region." 

Oil & gas industry association calls move political grandstanding

New Mexico Oil & Gas Association spokesperson Robert McEntyre criticized the inclusion of a moratorium in a spending package as political grandstanding.

“This seems to be more driven by politics than policy,” he said.

McEntyre highlighted that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has already enacted a moratorium on oil and gas leases within that buffer zone for a year while the Bureau of Land Management evaluates potential impacts and develops an amendment to its 2003 resource management plan.

Luján says moratorium will not impact Navajo allottees 

While there are more than 900,000 acres of land within the 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Luján said the moratorium would only apply to land that is owned by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. He said drilling could still occur on allottee lands.

Luján said the moratorium applies to about 316,000 acres within the buffer zone.

However, Frankie Davis, a representative for the Diné Allottee Association, has concerns that the buffer zone will harm allottees in the eastern agency that often rely on oil and gas development.

"I'm an allottee and I want drilling," she said. "I want oil and I want to make use of my land."

MORE: David Bernhardt's visit to Chaco Canyon led to oil, gas leases being deferred for 1 year

She said many of the allottees feel like their voices have not been heard. 

Davis highlighted the poverty in the eastern agency and the lack of economic opportunities as reasons why drilling is important.

When asked about possible economic development options to help the community near Chaco Canyon, Luján said he would like to see more methane captured to increase revenue from oil and gas development.

Moratorium follows similar state land office, U.S. Department of the Interior announcements

This moratorium comes after the State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard issued a moratorium on drilling on state lands near Chaco. It also follows on the interior secretary instructing the BLM to defer leases near Chaco for a year.

Luján said the one-year moratorium will codify Bernhardt’s announcement that leases will be deferred for a year. He said it will also give the House of Representatives and the Senate time to pass legislation the New Mexico delegation has introduced that would make the buffer zone permanent.

“The BLM has traditionally and historically not been issuing leases in the Chaco area,” Luján said.

He said his legislation would simply codify that practice.

Governor praises appropriation bill

The governor voiced support for the moratorium in a statement included in a press release from Luján's office.

"Chaco Canyon is a world-renowned cultural treasure that must be protected, both for its historical value and for the tribal communities that still call it home," said Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in a statement. "I am pleased to see this provision move through the House and encourage members of the Senate to ensure that these protections are included in appropriations bills going forward."

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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