United States: Oil and Gas Leases Suspended Around Chaco Park in New Mexico | Economic news
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – New oil and gas rentals within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historic Park will be banned for the next two years, as authorities consider a proposal to remove federal lands from the region. development for a 20-year period, the US Department of the Interior said on Monday.
The announcement came as environmentalists, some Native American tribes and Democratic politicians pressured Home Secretary Deb Haaland to take administrative action to protect a vast expanse of land in the northwestern part of the country. New Mexico which is of importance to many indigenous peoples of the Southwest.
The first Native American to hold a ministerial post, Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico. She called the area sacred and reiterated its importance on Monday, saying it has deep meaning for those whose ancestors once called the high desert.
“Now is the time to consider more sustainable protections for the living landscape that is the Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural heritage to future generations,” Haaland said in a statement. “I appreciate and appreciate the many tribal leaders, elected officials and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.
A World Heritage Site, the Chaco is considered the center of what was once a hub of indigenous civilization. In the park, stacked stone walls rise from the bottom of the canyon, some perfectly aligned with the seasonal movements of the sun and moon. Circular underground rooms called kivas are carved into the desert floor. Outside the park, archaeologists said, more finds are waiting to be made.
The struggle to drill beyond the boundaries of the World Heritage site has been going on for decades and spanning several presidential administrations. The Trump and Obama administrations have also suspended leases adjacent to the park through agency actions, but activists want more permanent action that cannot be changed by future presidential administrations.
Haaland was among the sponsors of legislation calling for greater protection around the Chaco during her tenure in the United States House, but calls have grown for her to use administrative powers to establish a buffer zone around the Chaco. Chaco pending the outcome of federal legislation.
Over the next two years, the Bureau of Land Management will be responsible for conducting an environmental scan and collecting public comments on the proposed administrative withdrawal. The agency undertakes to consult the tribes.
Federal officials have said the ban on new leasing of oil in the region will not affect existing leases or rights and will not apply to minerals owned by private, state or tribal entities.
The impact of a 20-year withdrawal, if approved, is uncertain as the area is a jurisdictional chessboard of state, private, federal and tribal operations.
Much of the land surrounding the Chaco is owned by the largest native tribe in the United States – the Navajo Nation – and private Navajo people.
Navajo leaders have expressed concerns about the size of the buffer zone around the Chaco. They have repeatedly called for on-the-ground hearings in Congress before any decisions are made.
While they support the preservation of parts of the area, they said Navajo beneficiaries risk losing a significant source of income if the 10-mile buffer zone is created around the park as proposed. They demand that a smaller area of federal land be closed to development as a compromise to protect the financial interests of the Navajo.
As part of the upcoming work, federal officials are planning a broader assessment of the area to take into account sacred sites and cultural resources. It will begin with conversations with tribal leaders and others on how to manage existing energy development while honoring hot spots.
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