Conservation groups seek ban on new fracking around Chaco Canyon

More fracking threatens public health, historic treasures

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Historic ruins at Chaco Canyon, Colorado.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Oil and gas drilling in the vicinity of the treasured Chaco Culture National Historical Park poses an imminent risk to irreplaceable resources, conservation groups said as the moved to block the federal government from approving any more permits.

Continued drilling threatens public health, clean air and water, and Navajo communities in the region, the groups said as they called on a federal judge to issue an injunction on oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region.

The request for an injunction in U.S. District Court charges that the Bureau of Land Management illegally approval of hundreds of drilling permits.

“Unless this Court issues a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo on the ground pending resolution of the merits of this case, BLM will continue to approve Mancos Shale drilling permits, allowing construction of roads, pipelines, and well pads, along with drilling and fracking shale oil wells, in violation of the law,” the conservation advocates wrote in their formal motion for the injunction.

“We need to put a stop to fracking in the Greater Chaco region because it impacts the living peoples, the water, air, wildlife, medicinal plants, and offering points,” said Sarah Jane White of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “There are already reports of contaminated water from fracking activities and some people have to buy bottled water. Elders have been forced to sign oil and gas leases and this is an environmental justice issue! BLM needs to seriously consider all these impacts before approving any more oil and gas leases.”

The Greater Chaco region is home to many Navajo communities living amid extensive oil and gas development that threatens their way of life. The area is also home to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, extensive ancestral Puebloan ruins and is considered the cultural heart of the American Southwest.

Over the last two years, the Bureau of Land Management has approved more than 240 new fracking proposals, primarily near the community of Lybrook and within 20 miles of Chaco Canyon.  This is despite the agency’s acknowledgment that it has never analyzed how this development will impact public health and the environment, and has no plan in place to protect the region’s air, water and communities.

“For the Bureau of Land Management to continue to allow fracking in an such a sensitive area with no analysis of its effects will irreparably harm the people who live there, unique cultural resources and the climate” said Kyle Tisdel, climate and energy program director at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The fracking permits already approved are unlawful, and issuing new fracking permits without any information on the effects is unconscionable.”

The groups filed suit in March challenging the agency’s approval of fracking wells in Greater Chaco without considering the impact that such development would have on the environment and human health.  Since then, the Bureau of Land Management has continued to approve drilling permits without completing a study of the impacts, as the law requires. If the court grants an injunction, it would temporarily stop the agency’s approval of new drilling permits until the lawsuit is fully resolved.

“Bending to the demands of the oil and gas industry, the Bureau of Land Management is sacrificing the Greater Chaco region’s culture, its people, and its public lands,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program director. “This is about stopping illegal fracking, saving Greater Chaco, and reining in the Bureau of Land Management’s outrageous willingness to do whatever it takes to make industry money.”

The groups involved in the lawsuit include Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and Natural Resources Defense Council. Attorneys from the Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians represent the groups.

A copy of the May 11, 2015 preliminary injunction is available here.
A copy of the March 11, 2015 complaint is available here.

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