The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is pushing ahead with the sale of oil and gas leases on land outside of Chaco Culture National Historical Park and other sites revered by Native American tribes, The Associated Press reported.
The latest listing—which quietly appeared on the BLM website not long after the government reopened after the shutdown—comes about a year after then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke postponed a lease sale in the Greater Chaco Region in response to intense public pressure over cultural and environmental concerns.
BLM will open a protest period for comments from Feb. 11 through Feb. 20 for a sale scheduled for March 28, according to the agency’s notice. More than 50 parcels in New Mexico and Oklahoma will be on the auction block.
During the record-long government impasse, Democrats, environmentalists and others fiercely criticized the Trump administration for moving ahead with drilling permits on public lands while most other agencies were shut.
“It’s a mistake that while critical public services were shuttered for 35 days during the government shutdown, BLM still moved forward with this opaque process,” Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, told the AP about the latest lease.
The AP noted that it is possible for BLM to withdraw the latest land sales depending on the outcome of the protest period.
For years, environmental groups, tribes and other opponents have raised flags about frackingencroaching on and threatening Chaco Canyon, a major center of ancient Pueblo culture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As it happens, the park sits in the central San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico that’s booming with shale gas extraction. Roughly 90 percent of the Great Chaco Region is already leased for oil and gas development, but more fossil fuels lie beneath those lands. The New Mexico BLM wants to sell parcels that are close or just along the park’s 10-mile, no drilling buffer zone.
Ironically—as Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner for WildEarth Guardians, pointed out to EcoWatch—newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed an executive order just this week that committed the state to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change.
How did the New Mexico BLM respond to that order? “By announcing its intent to auction off more public land in the state to industrialized fracking,” Sobel lamented.
“Oil and gas has already devastated our state’s air quality, water quality and flow, and public health,” she added. “It’s clear the Trump administration will stop at nothing to sacrifice public interest for private profits.”
Sobel noted that a “record-breaking 10,000 protest comments” were submitted in response to a December 2018 oil and gas lease sale in the state, and yet the BLM “ignored the public and wasted no time in proposing even more public land for fracking.”
“We’re looking to New Mexico’s newly elected state and federal representatives to finally address fracking impacts, and with this week’s Executive Order on Climate and a slew of proposed statewide bills aimed at enforcement and accountability around oil and gas, we hope New Mexico can tun the tide and reign in this dangerous industry, protecting our people and sacred landscapes,” she concluded.