Biden administration orders 20-year oil drilling ban around Chaco Canyon

Oil and Gas Chaco Canyon
The sky as seen from a room believed to serve as a storeroom for merchants or other residents of the pre-Colombian settlement on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, in northwestern New Mexico. Top officials with the largest Native American tribe in the United States are renewing a request for congressional leaders to hold a field hearing before deciding on federal legislation aimed at limiting oil and gas development around Chaco Culture National Historical Park. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio) Cedar Attanasio/AP

Biden administration orders 20-year oil drilling ban around Chaco Canyon

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The Biden administration issued a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling on Friday on federal lands around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a major announcement that comes after years of lobbying from local Native American tribes and conservationist groups.

The plan, announced Friday by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, bans all new drilling on public lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Canyon. It will not affect existing federal leases or drilling on private property.

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“Today marks an important step in fulfilling President Biden’s commitments to Indian Country, by protecting Chaco Canyon, a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the indigenous peoples whose ancestors have called this place home since time immemorial,” Haaland said in a statement.

Native American tribes have pushed for decades to protect land near Chaco Canyon, a 30,000-acre park in New Mexico and northern Arizona that is one of the nation’s oldest and most culturally significant ancestral sites.

The park contains structures dating back thousands of years and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The announcement also delivers on President Joe Biden’s 2021 pledge to prevent drilling in the area.

The Bureau of Land Management first published a notice of the proposed withdrawal in the Federal Register in January 2022, opening it to a 120-day public comment period.

The Interior said Friday that more than 110,000 written and verbal comments were submitted during that time, which it took into consideration when drafting the plan.

It also consulted with 24 tribal groups during that time.

Still, the ban on drilling has divided some tribal groups, including the Navajo Nation, which announced its opposition to the moratorium last month.

In a letter to the administration last month, the Navajo rescinded support for a drilling moratorium on a 5-mile buffer zone around the park, saying its members could lose income tied to those resources.

Oil and gas industry leaders have also opposed withdrawing the lands around the site for leasing.

The bureau estimated last year that protection of the lands could result in losses to the federal government of roughly $4.8 million per year in royalties and the loss of about 49 jobs.

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Friday’s announcement also highlights the administration’s commitment to securing more land protections for Native American tribes at a time when it has also come under sharp criticism by some environmentalists for its decision to include approval of the more than 300-mile Mountain Valley gas pipeline in its debt ceiling agreement.

It comes just months after Biden created a new national monument at Spirit Mountain, another sacred tribal site in Nevada, earlier this year. He also restored or expanded existing federal protections at the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante sites in Utah.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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