By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – The U.S. Interior Department’s plan to remove hundreds of square miles in New Mexico from oil and gas production over the next 20 years is expected to result in only a few dozen wells will not be drilled on federal lands surrounding Chaco Culture National Historic Park, according to an environmental assessment.
The land managers have scheduled two public meetings next week to gather feedback on the assessment made public on Thursday.
The pullout plan was first outlined by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in 2021 in response to concerns from Native American tribes in New Mexico and Arizona that development was unchecked over a wide area. band in northwest New Mexico and that the tribal leaders had no seat at the table.
In addition to the proposed pullout, Haaland — who hails from Laguna Pueblo and is the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency — also pledged to look more broadly at how federal lands in the area can be better managed while still taking into account environmental effects. and cultural preservation.
Indigenous leaders and environmental groups reiterated this week that a broader look would be a more meaningful step toward permanently protecting cultural resources in the San Juan Basin.
The environmental assessment reinforces this argument since it notes that the proposed withdrawal would not affect existing leases and that much of the industry interest in future development is already under lease or is outside the limits of what would be withdrawn.
The Bureau of Land Management estimated, based on 2018 data, that not quite 100 new oil and gas wells would likely be drilled in the next 20 years in the take-up area. It is estimated that less than half of these would likely not be drilled if withdrawal were approved.
With only a few dozen wells planned in the region, the region’s natural gas production would halve by 1% and oil production could see a reduction of 2.5%.
However, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association argued that while the removal would not affect leases on Navajo lands or subdivisions owned by individual Navajos, those leases essentially become landlocked by removing federal resource holdings from the council. ‘administration.
Navajo Nation officials have made similar arguments, saying millions of dollars in annual oil and gas revenues benefit the tribe and individual tribe members. Some leaders have advocated for a smaller buffer zone around Chaco Park to be protected due to the economic implications.
The industry group said there were more than 418 unlet lots in the buffer zone associated with more than 22,000 tenants.
Environmentalists say the potential development of the setback zone is only a fraction of the 3,200 total sinks the region could see over the next two decades.
Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance has been monitoring and protesting development throughout the area for years. He said Friday that the biggest issue is the large area beyond the setback zone and that federal land managers must assess permit applications as part of Haaland’s larger “Honoring Chaco” initiative.
“We believe this requires extensive consultation on protecting this region from industrialization of the landscape,” he said.
In June, the All Pueblo Board of Governors traveled from New Mexico to Washington to urge the Department of the Interior to finalize its proposal to protect the Chaco region, arguing that management of public lands should better reflect the value of sacred sites, cultural resources and traditional stories that are linked to the region.
A World Heritage Site, the Chaco Culture National Historical Park is considered the center of what was once a hub of indigenous civilization with many southwestern tribes tracing their roots to the outpost from the high desert.
Within the park, stacked stone walls rise from the canyon floor, some perfectly aligned with the seasonal movements of the sun and moon. Archaeologists have also found evidence of major highways that ran through what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.