Chaco Canyon Oil & Gas Ban

By: Ciara McAuliffe – Managing Editor

On Monday, November 15th, President Biden proposed a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, one of the nation’s oldest and most culturally significant Native American sites. 

The ban “does not apply to Individual Indian Allotments or to minerals within the area owned by private, state, and Tribal entities,” nor will it “impose restrictions on other developments, such as roads, water lines, transmission lines, or buildings,” the White House said. 

“No group of Americans has created and cared more about preserving what we inherited than the tribal nations,” Biden said. “We have to continue to stand up for the dignity of sovereignty of tribal nations.” 

This plan was announced alongside four other initiatives to protect Native Americas during the Tribal Nations Summit at the White House. The summit was last held in 2016. 

“These efforts, again, to use the word my dad would use so much, are a matter of dignity. That’s the foundation of our nation-to-nation partnership. That’s what this summit is all about,” added Biden. 

The Biden administration’s recent push to address climate change and injustices against Native Americans didn’t come out of nowhere. Last month, dozens of Natives and environmental activists protested in front of White House for days, calling on Biden to do more to combat fossil fuel use.

They were protesting the administration’s approval of Line 3, a $9 billion pipeline that would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil through Minnesota’s watersheds and tribal lands. They also called on the Interior Department to close the Bureau of Indian Affairs and restore millions of acres of land seized from Natives. 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, will enact the new plan to protect the surrounding area of Chaco Canyon. “Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations,” said Haaland. She values and appreciates the many tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve the area. 

Some Native Americans remain skeptical of Biden’s promise. “There have been a lot of promising announcements but so far not a lot of tangible results,” said Heather Tanana, assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Law, who is Navajo.

“In theory, it sounds good. But oil and gas development has been going on in that area since the 50s, and a lot of harm has already happened. What will happen to remedy those harms?” added Tanana. 

As expected, the Biden administration’s decision generated pushback from Republicans and the oil and gas industry. 

“There doesn’t appear to be a scientific or environmental rationale for that 10-mile radius,” said Robert McEntyre, spokesman for New Mexico Oil & Gas Association. “Given the role that oil and gas play in the economy of that area, we shouldn’t have an arbitrary number that would limit economic opportunities, perhaps the only economic opportunities, in that part of the state.”

“No one is saying that we want to develop inside the park or that we need to be directly inside its boundaries. But the 10-mile number appears to be arbitrary. Especially over such a long period that could have generational consequences,” added McEntyre.

Representative Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, Republican on the House of Natural Resources Committee says that “Shutting down safe, reliable pipelines, elimination thousands of technical jobs and thwarting energy development at every turn is apparently not enough for President Biden and his admin, as now they are continuing their war on American energy by banning all new oil and gas leases near Chaco Canyon.”

The Bureau of Land Management, a part of the Interior Department, will publish a notice in the Federal Register to initiate the ban. Once published, there will be an initial two-year moratorium on issuing new oil and gas drilling leases in federal land in the 10-mile radius while a proposal is subject to a public comment period, environmental analysis, and formal tribal consultation. 

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