The oil and gas lease sale has faced significant opposition from environmental groups and members of the Navajo Nation

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FARMINGTON — The Bureau of Land Management today went forward with its planned oil and gas lease sale of 843 acres of public land and minerals near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Two bidders successfully purchased the four parcels for a total of $2.9 million, according to state BLM spokeswoman Donna Hummel. She said the federal agency will not issue the parcels to the winning bidders until several protests filed in connection with the sale are resolved.

"The sale went off without any hitches, and it was rather lively," Hummel said. "There was a lot of last-minute bidding. It was interesting to watch it unfold successfully."

Hummel said the BLM will not announce the names of the winning bidders until the payment process is completed.

The sale has faced significant opposition from environmental groups and members of the Navajo Nation. Some of the protesting parties gathered at the BLM's state office in Santa Fe on Jan. 17 to ask the agency's state director to halt the sale.

Four Navajo Nation chapter presidents met with BLM State Director Amy Lueders, and about 150 protesters gathered outside her office, according to press release from WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe-based environmental organization.

The protesters claim the BLM had not adequately assessed the environmental and cultural impacts of oil and gas exploration in the area. The BLM has maintained it completed the required impact assessments.

WildEarth Guardians spokeswoman Rebecca Sobel said her group sees the sale as the start of President Donald Trump's administration taking steps to prioritize profits for the oil and gas industry over environmental and humanitarian concerns.

"There is a lot that BLM has yet to address regarding the impact," Sobel said. "There is a lack of protection for clean water, clean air and for the health of people living nearby."

Hummel said Lueders appreciated hearing from tribal leaders, saying their efforts were not a waste of time.

"(The meeting) definitely resonated with us, and there was an appreciation for it," Hummel said. "There will be more efforts made to work with communities to reduce the impacts (of exploration). But I can guarantee that many people who are making claims have not looked at our environment assessment, so I encourage them to look at the webpage."

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

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