(August 23, 2016)—I’m overdue for an update on Archaeology Southwest’s efforts—with our partners—to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape. First, good news: we have produced a brochure highlighting the issues we face. This highly readable brochure explains why protecting the Greater Chaco Landscape is so important and describes how interested people can get involved.
The brochure includes a map showing the area around Chaco Canyon and the proposed 10-mile cultural protection zone. A supplemental map (included here) shows land status around Chaco and areas currently leased. One of our challenges in this work is the fact that 91% of the roughly 8 million acres in the Farmington BLM area boundary is currently leased. Our efforts are thus focused on getting adequate protections in place for those portions of the remaining 9% that contain sensitive cultural resources.
The brochure highlights the importance of the Pierre’s great house community on the Great North Road, about 18 miles north of Chaco Canyon. Pierre’s sits at a dividing line between the relatively intact landscape heading south into Chaco and the heavily impacted, oil-and-gas dominated landscape heading north toward Bloomfield, New Mexico. Although it is too late to minimize many impacts to the landscape north of Pierre’s, we have the opportunity to protect lands south of Pierre’s—thereby preserving the best remaining pieces of Chaco’s ancient landscape.
BLM has implemented a temporary deferral of mineral leasing within a 10-mile protection zone around Chaco (see our map). We are pushing to have the deferral made permanent, for the life of BLM’s Resource Management Plan amendment (currently underway and expected in draft form in 2017). Protection of this area and removal from future mineral leasing will help ensure that remaining portions of the Greater Chaco Landscape are preserved for the future.
Beyond the need to protect this fragile area surrounding Chaco Cultural National Historical Park, the 10-mile zone has little potential for oil development in the Mancos Shale formation. The best Mancos Shale reserves are found in the area 20–25 miles northeast of Chaco. Thus, it seems little to ask the oil-and-gas industry to give up potential leases in an area that is unlikely to ever be profitable.
An important part of our approach to protecting the Chacoan landscape within the unleased 9% is the master leasing plan (MLP) approach. I’ve discussed the MLP approach in previous blogs. Briefly, it calls for a comprehensive 10–15 leasing plan that brings all stakeholders to the table. Such an approach removes the environmental challenges of piecemeal leasing and gives all parties, industry included, a clear vision of leasing in the specified BLM district. Our brochure describes the MLP approach as the best way to ensure protection of the Greater Chaco Landscape, while balancing the need for some oil-gas development in the area.
One issue that has recently come up is a lawsuit against the New Mexico BLM brought forth by the Western Energy Alliance. In essence, the lawsuit seeks to have the NM BLM hold oil-gas lease sales four times a year. Quarterly lease sales are specified in the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, when eligible lands are available for leasing—however, the lands in question require consultation with state, local, and tribal entities. In other words, NM BLM lands can be offered for mineral leasing four times a year only if other conditions are met.
Santa Fe, NM – The BLM leases parcels for oil and gas development up to four times a year, if lands are available for leasing, based on recommendations and input from the public, industry, tribes and other constituent groups. Before determining which parcels will be included in a lease sale, the BLM carefully reviews each parcel nominated for that sale. State, local and tribal consultation and the public input process are important steps in the leasing process.
There were 3 parcels totaling 2,122 acres in the San Juan Basin near Farmington, New Mexico that had been under evaluation to be offered at the October 19, 2016, sale. However, the NEPA and tribal consultation for those parcels has not concluded. As a result, those 3 parcels are not yet available for leasing. The BLM intends to complete the NEPA and tribal consultation process, and will then determine whether those parcels are available to be offered at a subsequent sale.
Information related to BLM oil and gas lease sales, including public involvement opportunities, can be found at: http://www.blm.gov/nm/oilandgas.
In my view, the Western Energy Alliance suit appears to have little merit and is based on an overly simplistic reading of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.