A lease sale that could lead to oil and gas drilling near the Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico will be held off for now as the Department of Interior seeks more information on the history and cultural significance of the land itself.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has issued an order postponing the lease sale of land parcels comprising around 25 parcels in Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and San Juan counties after objections were raised by Navajo Nation Leaders, preservationists, and U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.
Those objections said that the land slated for possible exploration is too close to a sacred tribal site in the Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
By drilling in that area, opponents have maintained, historic and fragile structures, which include remnants of kivas and houses, could be permanently damaged.
Pueblos within the Chaco Cultural National Historic Park are thought to be more than 1,000 years old.
In a statement Zinke said, “I’ve always said there are places where it is appropriate to develop and where it’s not. This area certainly deserves more study.”
Zinke also noted, “There is some concern about the proximity to Chaco of some of the leases and the uncertainty about cultural impacts.”
The Bureau of Land Management has established a 10-mile buffer zone round the Chaco Park. The agency will now be required to conduct an extensive cultural review for that area.
Adam Siedlitz, acting director of the New Mexico branch of the BLM, said in a statement: “We will continue to work with consulting parties, including tribal and state governments, state and federal agencies, and others, as we consider and analyze impacts of oil and gas leasing in the area.”
The lease sale, to be conducted by the BLM, was scheduled for March 8.
By Garry Boulard
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