The Biden administration took steps Friday to block a new oil and gas lease on federal land around New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, one of the nation’s oldest and most culturally significant Native American sites. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced her agency will withdraw public lands within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Canyon and the area around it, known as Chaco Culture National Historical Park, from access to a new oil and gas lease for 20 years. AND President Biden’s 2021 pledge to protect the area from drilling. The move will not affect existing oil and gas leases on the property or drilling on private property within a 10-mile radius.

The plan laid out by Ms. Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, came after decades of tribal requests. It is intended to underscore President Biden’s efforts to focus on Native American issues and expand protections on public lands. But he also drew opposition from Republicans and the New Mexico oil and gas industry. The announcement comes during a week when environmental activists were outraged by the Biden administration’s move expedite 300 miles of pipeline in West Virginia as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Chaco Canyon Park, an area of ​​roughly 30,000 acres in the high desert mesas of northwestern New Mexico, was established in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to an extensive network of pre-Columbian ruins. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, the area was the center of the Pueblo culture, with many settlements with multistory houses and sacred sites. But for the past decade, the Pueblo and other indigenous groups have worried that oil and gas projects are threatening the park.

While Congress has enacted several short-term drilling bans around the park, there is no long-term or permanent policy to block drilling on its fringes.

“Today marks an important step in fulfilling President Biden’s commitment to Indian Country by protecting Chaco Canyon, a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the indigenous peoples whose ancestors have called this place home since time immemorial,” Ms. Haaland said in a statement. .

This year, Mr. Biden created a new national monument, Ghost Mountain, in Nevada, isolating half a million acres revered by Native Americans from development. He also restored and expanded protections for Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, places that are sacred to Native Americans and was opened to mining and drilling by the Trump administration.

The Bureau of Land Management has not issued an oil and gas lease in the 10-mile buffer around Chaco Canyon for about 10 years, and New Mexico halted mineral leasing around Chaco Canyon through a state-level moratorium in 2019. A federal moratorium on new mining claims is in effective January 2022, when the Department of the Interior published a notice of proposed withdrawal in the Federal Register. The proposal was opened for a 120-day public comment period that included six public meetings and drew more than 110,000 verbal and written comments. That input, along with consultations with 24 tribal nations, helped shape the final plan, the agency said.

Oil and gas production is a major component of New Mexico’s economy. At the time Mr. Biden announced his plans to protect the Chaco Canyon region, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association called the move “arbitrary” and said it would limit economic opportunity in that part of the state, possibly for generations. Come. It is unclear whether the industry will try to challenge the new protections.

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