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New rules to bar oil/gas drilling in the vicinity of Chaco Culture National Historical Park

The Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion is mov­ing to imple­ment a twen­ty year ban on oil and gas leas­ing on fed­er­al land with­in a ten mile radius of Cha­co Cul­ture Nation­al His­tor­i­cal Park in north­west­ern New Mex­i­co, the sacred and majes­tic site of an Ances­tral Ple­bloan admin­is­tra­tive and cul­tur­al cen­ter cre­at­ed in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and aban­doned about 1150 A.D.

The action, announced at the White House Trib­al Nations Sum­mit, revers­es poli­cies of the Trump regime. After ini­tial­ly hes­i­tat­ing, it adopt­ed a drill-baby-drill approach propos­ing to approve 2,300 oil and gas wells in the area.

U.S. Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Deb Haa­land, the first Native Amer­i­can to hold the Cab­i­net post, said in a state­ment: “Cha­co Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep mean­ing for Indige­nous peo­ples whose ances­tors lived, worked and thrived in that high desert community.”

The vis­i­tor cen­ter at Cha­co Cul­ture Nation­al His­tor­i­cal Park, with Faja­da Butte vis­i­ble in the dis­tance (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Haa­land, a for­mer mem­ber of Con­gress from New Mex­i­co, added: “Now is the time to con­sid­er more endur­ing pro­tec­tions for the liv­ing land­scape that is Cha­co, so that we can pass on this rich cul­tur­al lega­cy to future generations.”

Sit­u­at­ed in the remote Four Cor­ners area, reached by a rough road, Cha­co Cul­ture con­tains remains of stone build­ings and Great Hous­es that were once among the largest struc­tures in North America.

Larg­er build­ings were aligned to cap­ture cycles of the Sun and Moon, demon­strat­ing remark­able astro­nom­i­cal obser­va­tion and skill at construction.

The city was aban­doned, and par­tial­ly destroyed, about 1150 A.D., per­haps as the result of a drought. It remains a haunt­ing place, flanked by mesas and cliffs that glis­ten after an after­noon thun­der­storm. The vis­i­tor wan­ders through rooms and won­ders the dis­tance wood was car­ried and then sawed to con­struct a city in this high, dry set­ting. The park is also renowned for night skies free of light pollution.

Pueblo ruins at Cha­co Cul­ture Nation­al His­tor­i­cal Park. Cha­co Cul­ture con­tains the most sweep­ing set of ancient ruins north of Mex­i­co, includ­ing Chetro Ketl, the Pueblo Alto com­plex, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Pueblo Boni­to (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The oil and gas indus­try has turned sec­tions of the San Juan Basin into a cen­ter of the car­bon cul­ture and economy.

It has “safe­ly pro­vid­ed oil and nat­ur­al gas in the Basin for decades while at the same time pro­tect­ing the cul­tur­al and his­toric trea­sures through­out the region,” said New Mex­i­co Oil & Gas Asso­ci­a­tion spokesman Rob McEntyre.

He crit­i­cized the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion for putting “arbi­trary lim­its on devel­op­ment in the region.”

Ex‑U.S. Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Bruce Bab­bitt, a for­mer Ari­zona gov­er­nor, put a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on drill-baby-drill in a recent post for Writ­ers on the Range.

“If you vis­it the area you will imme­di­ate­ly see the blight that comes from oil and gas pro­duc­tion: More than 30,000 wells have been drilled in the region, yet 10,000 of these are inac­tive and many will nev­er be plugged and reclaimed,” Bab­bitt wrote. “Sacred land­scapes have been trans­formed into an indus­tri­al waste­land lit­tered with rusty tanks and drill pads and con­nect­ed by now-aban­doned roads and pipelines.”

The extrac­tion of nat­ur­al gas has involved frack­ing wells as well as methane flush­ing and con­struc­tion of hold­ing tanks.

“We can­not sus­tain our Sacred Trust when sacred sites like Cha­co are destroyed, as the region is quin­tes­sen­tial to our very exis­tence,” the All Pueblo Coun­cil of Gov­er­nors said in reac­tion to the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion action.

Added Wil­fred Her­rera, for­mer gov­er­nor of the Lagu­na Pueblo and chair­man of the APCG: “Cha­co Canyon has a pro­found con­tri­bu­tion to the his­to­ry of humankind, and for all who have heard the call, we are grateful.”

The with­draw­al from leas­ing will not impact indi­vid­ual Indi­an allot­ments or min­er­al leas­es with­in the area owned by pri­vate, state and trib­al enti­ties, the White House said in its announce­ment. The U.S. Bureau of Land Man­age­ment will ini­tial­ly set aside fed­er­al land for two years as it does an envi­ron­men­tal analy­sis and gath­ers pub­lic com­ment before imple­ment­ing the two-decade ban.

Pet­ro­glyphs on the Una Vida Trail at Cha­co Cul­ture Nation­al His­tor­i­cal Park. Una Vida is a Cha­coan “great house” — “a large pre-planned mul­ti-sto­ried pub­lic build­ing with dis­tinc­tive mason­ry, for­mal earth­en archi­tec­ture, and a great kiva,” accord­ing to the Nation­al Park Ser­vice. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“We look for­ward to kick­ing off a broad­er region­al con­ver­sa­tion with the many peo­ple who care deeply about the Greater Cha­co land­scape on how we can best man­age the cul­tur­al and nat­ur­al val­ues unique to this spe­cial place,” said BLM Direc­tor Tra­cy Stone-Manning.

The drilling ban around Cha­co Cul­ture rep­re­sents the lat­est rever­sal of Trump Admin­is­tra­tion pub­lic lands pol­i­cy, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Southwest.

Weeks ago, the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion moved to restore the Bears Ears and Grand Stair­case-Escalante Nation­al Mon­u­ments in South­ern Utah, both evis­cer­at­ed by the Trump regime.

The Bears Ears Mon­u­ment, cre­at­ed at the urg­ing of Native Amer­i­can groups, was slashed from 1.3 mil­lion acres to 210,000 acres.

With oil and gas leas­ing around Cha­co Cul­ture, then‑U.S. Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Ryan Zine ini­tial­ly held off leas­ing in the face of protests, but the depart­ment then pro­posed 2,300 wells in the area.

“The last admin­is­tra­tion couldn’t come to the view of just leav­ing it alone, so kept kind of propos­ing dif­fer­ent lease sales,” Deputy Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Tom­my Tom­my Beau­dreau told a con­fer­ence orga­nized by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago.

Cha­co Cul­ture Nation­al His­tor­i­cal Park was named a UNESCO (Unit­ed Nations Edu­ca­tion­al, Sci­en­tif­ic and Cul­tur­al Orga­ni­za­tion) World Her­itage Site in 1987.

Joel Connelly

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