Environment

Drilling in Greater Chaco protested

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The Bureau of Land Management is under fire from over 100 protests filed in response to a planned sale of oil and gas leases on nearly 4,500 acres of government-owned land in Western New Mexico known as "Greater Chaco," an area that has historical and cultural ties to the state's pueblos including Taos and Picuris.

The lease sale is scheduled for March 8 with the auction being conducted online at energynet.com, an Amarillo, Texas-based auction platform for the energy industry.

The BLM gave notice of the sale in September and a one-month protest period was opened to the public from December to January.

Rebecca Sobel of WildEarth Guardians, an environmental organization based in Santa Fe, called the number of protests "unprecedented."

Both Picuris and Taos Pueblos, through their membership to the All Pueblo Council of Governors, protested the sale of all 25 parcels around Chaco Canyon that are up for grabs, arguing the BLM is in violation of federal laws that require the agency to identify and analyze the sale's impact to tribes. They further argued the lease sale shouldn't go forward until the BLM finishes updating its Farmington Resource Management Plan, the document guiding all activity within that part of the state.

Several Northern New Mexico environmental and community groups also filed protests, including the Citizens Alliance of Northern New Mexico (based in the Río Chama watershed) and the Western Environmental Law Center, which represented WildEarth Guardians, Amigos Bravos, and Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, among others.

A 2017 lease sale by the BLM's Farmington Field Office garnered only seven official protests, according to Sobel, though Indian officials and activists held a last-minute demonstration in Santa Fe against the sale. That sale accounted for one-fifth the number of acres of the sale planned for March -- 843 acres in 2017 compared to 4,434 acres in 2018.

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