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Chaco Canyon area must be protected from fracking

Great news came recently for New Mexicans who prefer their public lands unfettered by oil and gas development – the Bureau of Land Management announced that it will delay an oil and gas lease in New Mexico until it can assess the potential damage to the surrounding area.

New Mexico’s San Juan Basin is being fast-tracked by the BLM for drilling and fracking, and parcels near Chaco Canyon and Santa Fe National Forests are next in line. But thanks to public pressure, the BLM is slowing down the process, at least until it can gather public input.

Now, those concerned about the environmental, public health and economic effects of fracking have until fall 2015 to tell the BLM to abandon its ill-advised plans to frack this treasured area.

New Mexico’s public lands and the plants, wildlife and people who rely on them deserve protection from oil and gas industry exploitation. Chaco Canyon is one of only 20 World Heritage sites in the United States, designated in 1987 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Between 850 and 1250 AD, Chaco was the ancestral home of the Pueblo peoples and stands as testimony to organizational and engineering abilities seen nowhere else in the American Southwest. We clearly cannot allow the oil and gas industry to destroy this legacy.

Chaco Canyon is a special place to me personally. I have spent many wonderful days there with family and friends and the canyon continues to be our most treasured destination. Every visit to this beautiful and spiritual place offers something special and unique. Fracking in the vicinity of Chaco Canyon would be a devastating loss to indigenous people, and to families like mine who have had the privilege of experiencing the ruins, wildlife, and the night sky, and of connecting with people who visit from all around the globe.

More than ever, the debate over fracking in New Mexico reinforces what we’ve known all along: regulations alone won’t protect us from the effects of this dangerous oil extraction method. We need to ban it altogether, and doing so on public lands should be an urgent priority.

In December, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced legislation to do just that. The Protect Our Public Lands Act is the strongest bill against fracking introduced in the U.S. Congress to date.

New Mexicans who wish to protect Chaco Canyon and other public lands would do well to take a few moments to contact our representatives in Congress to let them know how much Chaco Canyon matters and that we are counting on them to protect this extra-special local, national and international treasure by supporting H.R. 5844.

Meanwhile, Chaco Canyon faces another oil and gas industry threat: a Denver-based corporation wants to build a 130-mile long pipeline to transport 50,000 gallons of crude oil per day dangerously close to our precious park, spanning Navajo, private, state and federal land.

Leaks and spills from such pipelines are common – such a breech last weekend spilled more than 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. We cannot afford to risk contaminating what little water is available.

The BLM is reviewing the proposal for this pipeline and accepting comments from the public. The deadline to comment is Friday and comments may be submitted by email to BLM_NM_FFO_Comments@blm.gov. We need to make it clear that the people of New Mexico do not want to see a pipeline that could cause terrible damage to Chaco Canyon.

Chaco Canyon belongs to all of us: let’s work together to preserve it for generations to come.

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