ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — The U.S. Interior Department’s plan to withdraw hundreds of square miles in New Mexico from oil and gas production for the next 20 years is expected to result in only a few dozen wells not drilling on federal land around from the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, according to environmental assessment.
Land managers have scheduled two public meetings next week to get feedback on the assessment released on Thursday.
The withdrawal plan was first outlined by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in 2021 in response to the concerns of Native American tribes in New Mexico and Arizona that development was rampant across a wide swath of northwestern New Mexico and that tribal officials had no seat at the table.
In addition to the proposed withdrawal, Haaland — who is from Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to lead the office — also pledged to look more broadly at how federal land across the region can be better managed while taking environmental impacts into account. and cultural preservation.
Indigenous leaders and environmental groups reiterated this week that the broader look would be a more meaningful step toward permanently protecting cultural resources in the San Juan Basin.
The environmental assessment reinforces this argument, noting that the proposed withdrawal will not affect existing leases and that much of the industry’s interest in future development is already under lease or outside the boundaries of what will be withdrawn.
The Bureau of Land Management has estimated, based on 2018 data, that no more than 100 new oil and gas drilling could be done in the next 20 years within the withdrawal area. It is estimated that less than half of these would likely not be drilled if the withdrawal were approved.
With only a few dozen wells expected in the region, natural gas production for the region will drop by half of 1% and oil production could see a 2.5% decline.
However, the New Mexico Petroleum and Natural Gas Association argued that while the withdrawal would not affect leases on Navajo land or shares owned by individual Navajos, those leases effectively become landlocked by taking federal mineral holdings off the table.
Navajo Nation officials have made similar arguments, saying millions of dollars in annual oil and gas revenue benefit the tribe and individual tribal members. Some leaders have argued for protecting a smaller reserve around Chaco Park because of the economic impact. .
The industry group said there are more than 418 unleased shares in the buffer zone associated with more than 22,000 allocators.
Environmentalists say the potential development for the withdrawal area represents only a fraction of the 3,200 total wells the area could see over the next two decades.
Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance has been watching and protesting development throughout the area for years. He said Friday that the biggest issue is the sprawling area beyond the withdrawal zone and that federal land managers must evaluate requests for permits under Haaland’s larger “Honoring Chaco” initiative..
“We believe it requires extensive consultation to protect this area from landscape industrialization,” he said.
In June, the All Pueblo Council 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 public land management should better reflect the value of sacred sites , the cultural resources and traditional stories associated with the area.
A World Heritage Site, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is believed to be the center of what was once a hub of indigenous culture with many tribes from the Southwest tracing their roots to the high desert outpost.
Inside the park, walls of stacked stones rise from the canyon floor, some perfectly aligned with the seasonal movements of the sun and moon. Archaeologists have also found evidence of great roads that spanned what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.