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Local Advocates Demand Meaningful Protections for Communities & Environment, Not Buffer Zones
Daniel Tso, Counselor Citizens Health Impact Assessment and Hózhóógó na'adá Committee, (505) 258-6178, firstname.lastname@example.org
Samuel Sage, Counselor Chapter House, Community Services Coordinator, (505) 360-2090, email@example.com
Counselor, NM: Last week, New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich held a press conference introducing legislation aimed at protecting Greater Chaco, which local leaders and advocates say fall short of meaningful protections. The legislation proposes to withdraw federal minerals within a 10-mile buffer around Chaco Culture National Historical Park (“Chaco Protection Zone”) from future oil and gas leasing, but does nothing to address impacts from existing development.
While federal action is a step in the right direction, there are many underlying issues not addressed in the proposed legislation, including health and cultural impacts, poor air quality, protections for outlier sacred sites and landscape level cultural management, unsafe road conditions, public safety, infringed human and civil rights, tribal sovereignty, oil and gas royalty issues, and more.
The Protect Greater Chaco Coalition, which supports local Navajo Chapters and frontline communities dealing with the onslaught of industrialized fracking, is calling for federal legislation to prioritize the wellbeing of people and the environment, releasing a fact sheet today detailing necessary adjustments to strengthen legislation aimed at protecting Chaco culture.
Local communities have been clear in their opposition to fracking in the area. Fifteen Navajo Chapter Houses, including the Eastern Navajo Agency Council (ENAC) and Tri-Chapter Council--comprised of Ojo Encino, Torreon/Starlake, and Counselor chapters whose jurisdictions are in the center of new industrialized fracking development--have expressly and repeatedly called for a moratorium on new drilling and leasing and for a new management plan to adequately analyze and address the oil and gas impacts that communities regularly endure.
While ancient sites within Chaco Culture National Historical Park remain protected, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has already leased over 91% of available land across Greater Chaco for oil and gas development, including nearly 70,000 acres within the immediate vicinity of the Park, with an additional 55,000 new acres slated for sacrifice this year.
Fracking has already taken a terrible toll in Greater Chaco. The region hosts the nation’s largest methane hot spot as a result of oil and gas activities, and on a regular basis there are oil and gas disasters - gas tank explosions, water tank explosions (associated with gas production), ruptures, leaks, spills, earthquakes, and air, soil and water contamination. In July 2016, a well pad near the Nageezi Chapter House exploded and burned for five days, killing livestock and forcing 55 local residents to evacuate. Last month, the citizen-initiated Counselor Health Impact Assessment Committee, which monitors community air quality and health impacts while the BLM fails to do so, found a ‘red’ hazardous reading in a Counselor resident’s house less than 1 mile from a well pad, indicating the environment is unhealthy and should be evacuated.
Horizontal oil and gas wells have double the surface impact (5.2 acres) of vertical wells (2 acres) and emit over 250 percent more air pollution, require 5-10 times more water, and utilize a toxic cocktail known to include carcinogens and chemicals harmful to human health. Admitting its 2003 Resource Management Plan (RMP) fails to adequately analyze the impacts of horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking the area, the BLM joined with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to amend the plan for Greater Chaco oil and gas development, but it’s increasingly clear the agencies may have no intention of following through with their promises to the Navajo Nation and the American public, as over 500 new wells have been approved in the area absent required analysis or tribal consultation.
In 2017, the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors’ called for a moratorium on fracking-related activities in the Greater Chaco region on the heels of demands from Navajo Nation Chapters and dozens of letters from over 100 organizations represented by the Protect Greater Chaco Coalition. In December of that year, over 40 groups delivered a letter to Senators Udall and Heinrich calling for bold leadership to protect Indigenous rights and champion landscape level protections and transition alternatives for the region, while the BLM received a record-breaking 459 protests opposing the controversial leases of the March 2018 NM oil and gas lease sale. In response, Senators Udall and Heinrich, as well as U.S. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan and Congresswoman and New Mexico Gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham sent a letter requesting the deferral of the 4,434 acres slated for auction; on March 2, 2018, Department of Interior Secretary Zinke canceled the sale.
Although our New Mexican Senators have consulted with the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors in drafting the proposed legislation, local Navajo Chapters and communities were not consulted in drafting the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, which fails to provide protection for the health and safety of the living cultures of Greater Chaco.
Over 100 organizations and over 400,000 individuals have demanded an immediate moratorium on all leasing and drilling activities, for meaningful and lawful consultation with impacted communities, and for environmental justice issues to be addressed. Put simply, this legislation isn’t enough, and the fight to protect our future and our past is far from over.
“The eleventh hour notice on the Chaco bill catches us by surprise. Drawing lines on a map does nothing for the current living Navajo residents. Issues of split estate mineral management have not been addressed, and the Allotment heirs being deprived of their mineral rights surely will be angry. Has the BIA reached out to these resident heirs? Has there been adequate tribal consultation? The Navajo Nation leadership has kept the dealings of this legislation under wraps and have yet to speak with local Chapters. The health impacts are just now being documented by our own citizen based study. The Navajo Nation Human Research review board approved the inception of this study. What about the impacts of the heavy haul trucks?”
“The two Senators are just going through the motions to make this sound good and have already been bought and paid for! Today, there is already a lot of oil and gas development within the 10-mile buffer zone. Some of the leases have already been bought and are waiting for drilling. The issues impacting people living in the Greater area are never addressed. Where were the Senators in 2015 when development began? Rather than sending staff, Senators Udall and Heinrich need to come out here and talk to the people living in the area. They need to smell the air and ground and see the damage that has been done. Then, maybe myself and my relatives might believe the intentions of our senators.”
"While this bill protects the cultural integrity and ancestral ruins of our Pueblo Ancestors, it doesn't include the protection of the living culture within the Greater Chaco Region, like the Tri-Chapter Council. Since, Pueblo Action Alliance has started working with the Protect Greater Chaco Coalition, we have gained trust and friendship with our Dine brothers and sisters who are directly impacted by adverse health impacts caused by 'fracking.' If any legislation is going to be pushed, it needs to include the concerns and perspectives of the communities that are impacted daily. We stand in solidarity with the Greater Chaco Region."
“Federal law requires a percentage of royalties generated from oil and gas extraction to benefit communities directly affected by industry, but these communities receive nothing but hardship. There are Navajo Nation communities--Huerfano, Nageezi, Counselor-- that are subjected to the negative social, environmental and health-related fallout of current rigorous horizontal and hydraulic fracturing activities. In 2014, the state and federal government collected roughly $12.5 to $14 million in oil royalties from these three Navajo Nation communities, but there has been no investment into the roads or infrastructure here. The return on these royalties does not benefit these heavily fracked communities, thus perpetuating environmental discrimination.”
“It’s no surprise communities see the proposed “Chaco Protection Zone” as a symbolic gesture. The bill as it stands works to codify an arbitrary line previously proposed to buffer already-protected ancient cultural sites while drawing lines of sacrifice around living communities. In its current iteration, this bill falls too short of addressing the clear and consistent demands of the people of Greater Chaco to provide for the health and safety of their families and to address economic and environmental justice issues. We hope to work with our decision makers in consulting with their constituents and prioritizing meaningful protections for the living communities, ancient culture, and the future of this sacred region.”
“When I heard the report on KUNM of the introduction of the legislation, you could easily have believed that no one lives in and around the buffer zone and that the only thing worth protecting are “cultural resources “. So sad that for many the past matters more than the present or future. Honestly, what is needed is what has been asked for all along: a moratorium on all new activity in the region until more real dialogue on the issues takes place and safeguards instituted.”
“It is heartbreaking to arrive at this all too predictable juncture. The senators stood by for years, letting the drilling and leasing accelerate, despite the outcry from the communities, the outcry from those most affected, and those with whom they are allied. Without that voice, there would be no awareness, no impetus for action. This bill is non-responsive to that voice, to the actual problem, which is the fracking. It changes nothing at all on the ground.”
“As currently written this legislation misses the pollution impacts and the bigger picture. Our communities deserve the legislative political will to stand up to protect people’s health and safety. This is lost in the current draft legislation. We need legislation working more to protect the people’s health, safety and the environment in the checkerboard and beyond. Any fracking within the Chaco Mesa area, Rio Puerco and the Rio Grande Valley will impact the Rio Grande and has a high potential for destroying the water supplies for nearly 1 million people. This legislation will push more gas plays to the south east that will impact groundwater supplies. It is willful negligence to continue down this path and now it is up to us to challenge these decisions.”
“The bill is a cowardly solution and does not address the fatal and destructive nature of fracking across regions. While I appreciate Udall and Heinrich's supportive stance, they need to step out of the liberal-placating they are doing with this piece of legislation and confront the tragedy and destruction of what is going on around not only Chaco, but to all the other unprotected ancestral sites in the entire area spreading for hundreds of miles. This proposed legislation does not do that. Now is the time to push the limits and submit legislation that protects the entire bioregion not the small and obvious pieces of it. There is no other option. Enough with the "good first step" approach that solves nothing, addresses nothing, and allows the destruction and greed to continue.”
“When we fail to listen to the people living on the front lines of fossil fuel extraction, then all of our efforts to help ‘protect’ will lack meaningful remedy. Buffering Chaco Cultural Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing is a good first step in a process that must be informed by the experiences and considerable knowledge conveyed by impacted people; only then will we be prepared for the necessary steps to come.”
“The relentless onslaught of the fossil fuel industry should be stopped short. There should be no more exploration or fracking near any living thing, water source, natural resource, structure old or new. A 10-mile buffer zone is too little too late. Indigenous peoples have every right to stand up for the preservation of their homes and ancestral lands. New Mexicans have grave concerns over the future policies that may lead to diminished air quality and widespread water contamination. Our lawmakers should pledge a just transition to renewables now.”
"This bill is limited to new wells within a 10-mile buffer zone around the World Heritage site and it does not address any of the wells that are already there, nor does it do anything to protect the people, the environment, farms or the sacred sites outside of the buffer zone. It feels like a short-term fix that may actually kick broader, more necessary legislation further down the road. It might cause politicians and the public to think the fracking problem in Greater Chaco is fixed when in fact this bill doesn't fix anything for the communities of people living outside of the buffer zone."
“350 New Mexico appreciates Senators Udall and Heinrich taking an initial step to protect Chaco Canyon National Park, but their commitment to protecting the communities from the impacts of fracking must include protections from air pollution and climate change as well. We stand strongly for a moratorium on new drilling and leasing in the Greater Chaco area. In addition, we stand against the use of New Mexico's precious water resources to frack for oil and natural gas. Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas that is directly contributing to the severe drought conditions now affecting 99% of New Mexico.”