FACES OF CHACO

 

What they are doing will never be taken away.
It’s going to be there, just sitting there, rotting… staring back,
doing nothing but having lots of effects on us.”

– Kendra, Twin Pines, NM

INTRO

 

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Halfway down Highway 550 from the Colorado border to Albuquerque, NM lies a community so humble and dispersed that if you blink, you’ll miss it. Nestled in the hills, these people are as native to this place as the land itself.

For centuries, their ancestors thrived in this harsh and stunning place. Yet, over the last half century, unfettered and illegal oil and gas development enabled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has ravaged the sacred landscape. Much of this reckless destruction is irreversible, producing scars that will never heal.

After years of being silenced, the community is speaking out in defense of their home. They demand proper protections for their air, water, health, and cultural resources. Will you join them?

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 Hover over photos for quotes from local citizens.

Chapter 1:

A SACRED PLACE

 

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Off the beaten track in Northwest New Mexico lies Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a small preserved and protected piece of a vast sacred landscape. The region, referred to as Greater Chaco, contains the park and 230 known outlier settlements. But the Chacoan landscape is not stagnant with history, it is a living sacred space that still holds significance for over two dozen tribes today.

Scattered among these ancient ruins are extensive communities of living people, many who trace their lineage to the ancestors of Chaco’s pueblos. The people of Greater Chaco are steadfast, dedicated, and resilient. For centuries they have resided among the mesas of their home, thriving in the hot, dry, high elevation desert. While to others their home may seem vast and empty, to them it is full of life, family, and spirit.

Chapter 2: Oil and Gas

A. HOW LEASES WORK

 

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In Greater Chaco, the surface land is split in a checkerboard of tribal, private, state, and federal ownership. Through what is called “split estate” the government owns, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages, nearly all subsurface land and minerals regardless of surface owner. Most community members in this area reside on one of two land ownership types:

Allotment Land

In the 1880s, as an attempt to separate tribal members from their tribes, the Dawes Act authorized the President of the United States to divide tribal lands into allotments for individual native families and all of their future heirs. Some allotments now have hundreds of owners. When oil and gas under allotment lands is leased, allotment owners must sign approval and receive compensation.

Tribal Homesite

Native members of a tribe are able to apply for a “homesite” to build a house on lands owned by their tribe. When oil and gas under tribal trust lands are leased, homesite owners are not compensated or consulted.

Chapter 2: Oil and Gas

B. THE IMPACTS OF FRACKING

 

There are extensive consequences when a region hosts 40,000 oil and gas wells. Those impacts fall most heavily on the people living in and around the development, many of whom have no say in where or how it happens.

Oil and gas development produces all kinds of pollution. Spiderwebs of haphazard and unmaintained roads cause dust, mud, and erosion. Well site construction is irreversible in this arid, unreclaimable landscape. Runoff from well sites pollutes surface water, fracking underground can contaminate groundwater, and waste emissions of natural gas increase climate change and cause cancers and asthma.

But the impacts extend beyond pollution. Community members in Greater Chaco voice concerns about extensive truck traffic, road destruction, noise and light pollution, drugs, and violent man camps. These impacts not only affect public health and the environment, but also alter the structural makeup of a community in destructive, painful ways.

Chapter 3: Oil and Gas

C. WPX EXPLOSION

 

On July 11th, 2016 a WPX Energy oil production site just off Highway 550 south of Nageezi, NM, 14 miles from Chaco National Historical Park, caught fire just 150 feet from a home.

During the incident, the community was thrown into confused chaos. The company and BLM had no emergency evacuation or response plan. The nearest fire fighters were over 40 miles away. 55 residents were eventually evacuated. The exact cause of the fire remains unknown, but the company was forced to let it burn out over four days.

On the night of the explosion 36 oil and chemical storage tanks caught fire. The company has since returned to the site, significantly increasing production without proposing an emergency evacuation plan to the community.

Chapter 3: The Resistance

A. MOVING FORWARD

 

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Over the last decade, as fracking has crept into and swept over Greater Chaco, multiple groups have shifted to or formed for the purpose of fighting the development and demanding protections for those who are impacted. Prominent groups include Dooda FrackingDine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Dine C.A.R.E.) and Frack Off Chaco.

At the same time, local Chapter Houses and organizations like Lybrook Community Ministries work tirelessly to mitigate the multitude of impacts affecting their community members from oil and gas development and other challenges.

Chapter 3: The Resistance

B. WHAT’S NEXT?

 

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) office-wide 2003 Resource Management Plan (RMP) for Northwest New Mexico does not include any plans for fracking in Greater Chaco. Technologies in 2003 could not drill in the region, but newer equipment can. In 2014, the BLM admitted this and agreed to write an amendment to the RMP to reflect this oversight. But the final amendment isn’t expected until 2020 and in the meantime over 400 wells have already been drilled.

The specific comment period in this video is over, but you can still contact the BLM and take action here

Drilling without a plan is unacceptable. Leaders, groups, and citizens from all over the Four Corners have stood up to demand a moratorium on drilling until the RMP amendment is complete. Those voices include the Navajo Nation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, 15 Navajo Nation Chapters and over 300,000 public citizens. Protestors turned out in droves to counter the BLM’s January 2017 lease sale and were ignored. In addition, a lawsuit currently stands asserting that drilling without a plan is illegal.

The people of Greater Chaco deserve the same protections as everyone else. They deserve to know that their air, land, water, health, and cultural resources are safe and respected.

Will you add your voice?

Demand a moratorium on drilling in Greater Chaco
until proper protections are put in place.

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“We’ve been effective, we’ve made some milestone shows of solidarity, but I think that work just needs to keep going. We just have to. Some of the young folks after the January 25 [oil and gas lease] sale happened, said “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”

We just keep doing what we’re doing. We just keep going. And that’s what we can do. When all of this is said and done, all the oil field people are gone, we’ll still be here. We’ll still be here.

– Daniel

ABOUT THE PROJECT

 

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In this first phase of Faces of Chaco we introduce you to the incredible people of Greater Chaco. Future installments will continue to dig deeper into the passion, vitality, and brilliance of their communities.

If you are moved by this story, please sign up for updates on future installments, take action, and share us on social media. If you are interested in supporting the project in any way, or have questions, please email [email protected] Follow #FacesOfChaco on Twitter and Facebook too!

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Faces of Chaco is presented by residents of Greater Chaco with support from:

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