Drilling rights near Chaco Canyon sell for $3M

Native American, environmentalists delayed sale 3 times

The Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday auctioned oil and gas drilling rights for drilling on 843 acres in Chaco Canyon. Enlargephoto

Durango Herald file

The Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday auctioned oil and gas drilling rights for drilling on 843 acres in Chaco Canyon.

SANTA FE – The Bureau of Land Management has auctioned oil and gas drilling rights in northwest New Mexico despite protest from Native Americans and environmentalists.

The rights for drilling on four parcels totaling 843 acres in Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties sold for $3 million on Wednesday.

Critics contend the parcels are too close to Chaco Culture National Historical Park and that development in an expansive stretch they refer to as “the greater Chaco area” could damage cultural resources.

BLM spokeswoman Donna Hummel says the parcels are all outside of a 10-mile buffer that has been established around the park.

Hummel says the agency will not issue the parcels to the winning bidders until several protests filed in connection with the sale are resolved. The names of the winning bidders will not be released until the payment process is complete.

The sale faced significant opposition over five years from environmental groups and members of the Navajo Nation, who say the area of Chaco Canyon National Historic Park has particular significance for Native Americans.

In 2012, the parcels were authorized for leasing by the Mineral Leasing Act and the BLM’s Farmington office’s 2003 Resource Management Plan, spokesman Zach Stone has said.

The proposed sale was immediately met with opposition from a coalition of tribal members as well as environmental groups, that say energy development would affect sacred lands and adversely affect communities.

“That’s the purpose and reason for fighting it all along,” former Torreon council member Daniel Tso said recently of drilling’s risk to local residents. “They are opposed to it.”

The proposed sale was delayed three times over the past five years, and spurred the BLM office to launch an extensive community outreach effort to garner feedback.

When it was announced earlier this month that the sale would proceed on Jan. 25, Tso and Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie said the BLM did not effectively take public input into consideration.

“It’s an amazing contradiction to me,” Yazzie said. “They say they are getting input into the process from the local people, but at the same time, they seem to be proceeding with the sale, regardless of what comments they generate.”