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Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico

U.S. lawmakers move to protect historic Chaco Canyon from mining and drilling

Originally published by Greenwire

Appropriators in the U.S. House of Representatives would ensure federal lands around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico are protected from new energy and mineral development.

The House Appropriations Committee released a report to accompany its Interior-EPA bill up for markup tomorrow (E&E News PM, 14 May).

Language in the report would prevent the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from leasing or proposing new leases within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The fiscal 2020 language is additional insurance against any oil and gas leasing around Chaco, home to countless ancient ruins and artifacts and the cultural center for Ancestral Puebloans.

Earlier this month, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that BLM has improperly relied on an outdated environmental review to support development of thousands of northeastern New Mexico wells projected in a 2014 "reasonably foreseeable development scenario" (Energywire, 8 May).

Green groups and the New Mexico congressional delegation cheered the decision, considered a victory for protecting the sacred region of Chaco.

In February, BLM deferred roughly 1,500 acres it was considering offering in a 28 March oil and natural gas lease sale within 10 miles of the park, the third time the Trump administration has made such a move. BLM and the Bureau of Indian Affairs currently are working together on an updated management plan for the area.

"The Committee further directs the Bureau to prioritize planning updates for the region, increase cultural resources inventories in cooperation with the State of New Mexico and tribes to ensure well-informed land management decisions, and engage in meaningful government-to-government consultation with tribes, including conducting ethnographic studies outside of the 10-mile radius," the spending bill report said.

New Mexico lawmakers, including Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, reintroduced legislation in April that would establish a 10-mile buffer around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park and ban new drilling or mineral extraction from the protected federal lands. It would not apply to minerals in the area owned by private, state or tribal entities.

Udall is the ranking member of the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, so the language is likely to show up in the Senate's Interior spending bill.

Late last month, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard stopped further oil and natural gas development on New Mexico trust lands near Chaco.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2019. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at

Past coverage on ScienceInsider:

Drilling boom threatens web of ancient roads in Southwest