An extended Bureau of Land Management public comment period regarding increased oil and gas drilling in areas surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historic Park is set to expire on September 25.
The timeframe to comment on a project environmental impact statement was extended this spring after opponents of the plan said it was too difficult and dangerous to attend public meetings due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
In response, the BLM has hosted several webinars pertaining to the northwest New Mexico drilling and allowing for public discussion.
That approach, however, has sparked criticism due to the fact that a large number of residents of the Navajo Nation, which owns some of the land where the gas and oil exploration would take place, continue to lack internet access.
In a public letter to Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt sent three weeks ago by several members of the New Mexico Congressional delegation, including Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, a pitch was made to yet again extend the public comment time frame for the project.
The letter states that no decision regarding the environmental impact statement should be made until actual meetings are held, meetings in which the public “can meaningfully engage with the documents and safely gather to comment on them.”
The letter additionally suggests holding off on any onsite inspections relating to the project, also due to the pandemic.
The BLM has so far not issued a decision regarding an extension of the comment period.
As originally proposed, anywhere from 2,300 to 3,100 new oil and gas wells could be drilled within a 10-mile radius surrounding the Chaco Park, which includes a collection of ancient pueblos dating to the pre-Columbian period.
Once completed, the environmental impact study is expected to cover some 1.3 million acres managed by the BLM as well as 675,000 acres of Navajo Trust Land.
By Garry Boulard
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