Tribes, senators seek buffer around world heritage site gas prices going up to 5 dollars

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A swath of northwestern New Mexico’s oil and gas country would be off limits to drilling under proposed federal legislation that seeks to make permanent a buffer zone that has kept development away from Chaco Culture National Historical Park and other sites held sacred by Native American tribes.

The two New Mexico Democrats and tribal officials voiced their concerns about the potential of expanded drilling despite decisions over the years by federal land managers to defer any interest by the oil and gas industry in parcels that fall within the buffer. Most recently, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in March halted a lease sale over concerns about cultural impacts after hundreds of people protested.

Heinrich acknowledged that the San Juan Basin has a drilling history that dates back decades. As one of the oldest natural gas production areas in the U.S., the basin already contains thousands of wells, compressor stations and other infrastructure and many leases have yet to be developed.

A world heritage site, Chaco and other archaeological remnants outside park boundaries have become the focus of the fight over expanded drilling. Environmentalists have long complained about pollution from fossil fuel extraction and coal-fired power plants in the region. Their campaign gained steam when tribal leaders joined in with concerns about the effects on cultural resources.

“The greater Chaco landscape is the root of our great Native American family tree,” he said. “It is where our ancestors built their monuments and observed the cosmos. In this place, they spoke prayer on behalf of all our people. When we protect this place, we honor their prayers and bless ourselves.”

The Navajo Nation and other tribes have sought a drilling moratorium while other groups have sued over the approval of drilling permits in the basin. Federal agencies are working to overhaul the resource management plan that guides development decisions in the region. That plan is expected later this year.

“Rather than propose duplicative and unnecessary legislation, we should continue to have a dialogue with pueblos, tribes and local communities to address their concerns,” said Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

In a report last fall, archaeologists and professors pointed to new technology that has uncovered previously indiscernible sections of roads that connect sites throughout the region to the heart of Chaco park. They said more discoveries were possible with new satellite and laser-imaging tools.

The two New Mexico Democrats and tribal officials voiced their concerns about the potential of expanded drilling despite decisions over the years by federal land managers to defer any interest by the oil and gas industry in parcels that fall within the buffer. Most recently, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in March halted a lease sale over concerns about cultural impacts after hundreds of people protested.

Heinrich acknowledged that the San Juan Basin has a drilling history that dates back decades. As one of the oldest natural gas production areas in the U.S., the basin already contains thousands of wells, compressor stations and other infrastructure and many leases have yet to be developed.

A world heritage site, Chaco and other archaeological remnants outside park boundaries have become the focus of the fight over expanded drilling. Environmentalists have long complained about pollution from fossil fuel extraction and coal-fired power plants in the region. Their campaign gained steam when tribal leaders joined in with concerns about the effects on cultural resources.

"The greater Chaco landscape is the root of our great Native American family tree," he said. "It is where our ancestors built their monuments and observed the cosmos. In this place, they spoke prayer on behalf of all our people. When we protect this place, we honor their prayers and bless ourselves."

The Navajo Nation and other tribes have sought a drilling moratorium while other groups have sued over the approval of drilling permits in the basin. Federal agencies are working to overhaul the resource management plan that guides development decisions in the region. That plan is expected later this year.

"Rather than propose duplicative and unnecessary legislation, we should continue to have a dialogue with pueblos, tribes and local communities to address their concerns," said Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

In a report last fall, archaeologists and professors pointed to new technology that has uncovered previously indiscernible sections of roads that connect sites throughout the region to the heart of Chaco park. They said more discoveries were possible with new satellite and laser-imaging tools.