BLM defers Chaco oil & gas lease
Cites need for further study of cultural sites

BLM defers Chaco oil & gas lease

A controversial March 8 oil and gas lease sale outside Chaco Culture National Historical Park has been put on hold.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that the lease would be deferred while the BLM’s Farmington Field Office completes further analysis of the estimated 5,000 cultural sites in the proposed leasing area. 

“After hearing from tribes, senators Udall and Heinrich, historic preservation experts, and other stakeholders, I've decided to defer the sale that was scheduled for later this month,” Zinke said in a news release. “I've always said there are places where it is appropriate to develop and where it's not. This area certainly deserves more study.” 

The proposed lease sale includes 25 parcels covering 4,434 acres within Rio Arriba, Sandoval and San Juan counties in northwestern New Mexico. The surface ownership of the proposed parcels includes private land (2,033 acres), BLM-managed public land (1,031 acres), and tribal trust land (1,370 acres – federal minerals only).

“We understand the cultural importance of this area, and the need to gather additional information about this landscape before holding a lease sale,” BLM New Mexico Acting State Director Aden Seidlitz said. “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.”

According to the release, the BLM will complete an extensive cultural analysis, which will deem which parcels are appropriate for leasing.  

The BLM awards oil and gas leases for a period of 10 years, and for as long thereafter as there is production in paying quantities. The revenue from the sale of federal leases, as well as the 12.5 percent royalties collected from the production of those leases, is shared between the federal government and the states where the leasing and production occurs.

"We applaud Secretary Zinke for exercising restraint and to our Congressional leaders for beginning to follow through with their promise of responsible resource management for Greater Chaco," Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate & Energy Campaigner with WildEarth Guardians said. "With over 91 percent of available lands in the region already leased for oil and gas, responsible resource management requires reigning in unchecked fracking and respecting tribal rights. The Interior Department has yet to follow through in adopting a plan to protect this sacred landscape, its people, our clean air and water, and our climate, but canceling this lease sale is the first step toward fulfilling that promise.“