The U.S. House of Representatives passed a one-year moratorium in early July on oil and gas drilling for a 10-mile buffer zone nearby Chaco Canyon as part of an appropriations bill. The bill went to the Senate. Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico is a site sacred to Native Americans and is significant archaeologically.
New Mexico congressional representatives want the moratorium to be permanent. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt agreed to the one-year moratorium after touring the Chaco Culture National Historical Park with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in June.
Assistant House Speaker Ben Luján (D-NM), who introduced the one-year moratorium, said he feels “confident that this amendment will be included in the final package going to the president.” He added, “As long as Mitch McConnell takes his responsibility seriously about funding the federal government and moving appropriations bills through the Senate, this is a provision that does have broad support.”
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, introduced into the House in April, would withdraw the minerals owned by the federal government from future leasing and development within the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone, a 316,076 acre area. The bill is sponsored by nine congressional members.
Trump’s 2017 executive order
President Trump signed an executive order in 2017 which left places like Chaco Canyon wide open for oil and gas development. The executive order stated that the Department of the Interior has to review and may repeal safety and enforcement standards called 9B rules which protect over 40 national parks from oil and gas drilling impacts within their boundaries, including Chaco Canyon.
The importance of Chaco Canyon
Chaco Canyon is a UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the ancestral home for the Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo tribes. The Pueblo ancestral peoples occupied a major area of the southwestern U.S. and Chaco Canyon was the major center for the prehistoric Four Corners area, where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. It contains public and ceremonial buildings, including a very unique ancient urban ceremonial center.
Chaco Canyon lies within the San Juan Basin. A 2014 study of the basin found that the area has the biggest methane leaks in the U.S. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 23 times that of carbon dioxide. Researchers discovered that the basin accounts for 10 percent of all methane emissions from natural gas in the country. In 2017, NASA published a study on methane leaks in the Four Corners region, which includes the San Juan Basin. What researchers found is that the methane leaks are tied to natural gas.
While a congressional delegation toured Chaco Canyon in April, they were able to see methane plumes over the area by using an infrared camera. “You could see the plumes coming out and moving across the sky,” Luján said. “There’s no question that this is occurring.”
What concerned citizens can do
There is something concerned citizens can do: Sign the Credo Action petition telling the Bureau of Land Management to protect native lands and put a moratorium on drilling and fracking in the Greater Chaco Landscape. The BLM is putting up leases in the Greater Chaco Landscape. Over 91 percent of the area around Chaco Canyon has been leased already to the oil and gas industry. The last remaining leases are in federally-owned areas.