Court Finds Fracking Approvals in Greater Chaco Violate Cultural Protections

By April 4, 2018Oil & Gas
Picture of sign to Counselor Chapter House

Over the past weekend, we had a partial win in our long fight to protect Chaco from unfettered oil and gas development. While the judge rejected our claim that the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in approving permits to frack Mancos Shale without a Resource Management Plan in place to understand the impacts, the judge did affirm the BLM has violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by failing to consider impacts to the irreplaceable and sacred historical throughout Greater Chaco.

You can see our full press release below.


For Immediate Release: April 2, 2018

Court Finds Fracking Approvals in Greater Chaco Violate Cultural Protections


Santa Fe, NM
 – Over the weekend, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico issued “preview” order indicating it will soon rule in favor of advocate groups challenging hundreds of federal fracking approvals in the Greater Chaco region on cultural/archaeological grounds.

The court’s order indicates fracking approvals violate the National Historic Preservation Act, writing “some of the wells whose [areas of potential effect] contain historical sites, because some of the cultural resource analyses for those wells are conclusory, contain no finding, or are entirely absent from the record.”

“Section 106 consultation with Indian Tribes in The National Historic Preservation Act is completely ignored,” said Mario Antencio, a Navajo resident and board member of Diné CARE.

“Though the full implications of the ruling remain uncertain, we are pleased the court recognized BLM’s violation of the National Historic Preservation Act by recklessly approving hundreds of fracking wells across an unparalleled historic landscape and the home for current tribal communities,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney with Western Environmental Law Center representing the groups. “We remain hopeful that the court’s forthcoming decision provides meaningful relief for these egregious violations and the threatened desecration of our cultural history.”

“This ruling underscores that the Bureau of Land Management has been turning its back on the cultural sanctity of the Greater Chaco region,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, Senior Staff Attorney for WildEarth Guardians.  “While preliminary, this ruling is another critical step toward securing lasting protection for the sacred fabric of the irreplaceable Greater Chaco landscape.”

“The court decision suggests that consultation processes concerning public land management of the region will need refinement and clarity,” said Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance.

“The federal government cannot sacrifice the cultural and historic heritage of this region to fracking,” said Alison Kelly, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The court agreed that BLM violated the law by failing to analyze cultural and historic resources in the Greater Chaco region. This is a first step in ensuring adequate protections for this sacred place before important cultural resources are forever lost to fossil fuel development.”

The order does not specify the scope of the violations, nor does it indicate the nature of the forthcoming relief, but the groups are hopeful the case will result in correct and meaningful change on the ground in Greater Chaco in consideration of irreplaceable and sacred cultural resources.

New Mexico Sens. Udall and Heinrich as well as Reps. Lujan-Grisham and Luján have vocally opposed reckless oil and gas leasing in this area, as have Attorney General Hector Balderas and other New Mexico public officials.

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