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Conservation group members and landowners gather at BLM office to protest hydraulic fracturing near Chaco

FARMINGTON — On Monday, conservation groups challenged the Bureau of Land Management to stop issuing permits for oil and gas development near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Members of WildEarth Guardians and Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment joined Daniel Tso — a Navajo Allottee and former council delegate representing the Torreon Chapter of the Navajo Nation — and others in front of the BLM’s Farmington Field Office to share their concerns with Victoria Barr, district manager for BLM’s Farmington Field Office. Tso asked Barr to support a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for Mancos shale oil in the Gallup play area in the lower San Juan Basin, which is near Lybrook and Chaco Culture park.

The groups cited concerns over human health, environmental impacts and risk to cultural resources from fracking in the Lybrook area near Chaco.

Last month, a coalition of environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the BLM’s permitting of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the Chaco area.

Tso handed Barr a letter co-signed by about 30 activist groups and told her of his concerns over the continued industry activity in the Chaco area.

“The real concern in this whole matter is the fact that the Navajo people, whether they live on tribal trust land or are allottees, have been taken for granted,” Tso told Barr. “Their concerns about the quality of life has fallen on deaf ears.”

Tso told Barr that truck traffic travels close to homes in the Lybrook area, damaging roads that residents rely on to get groceries or health care. He added that the BLM has done little sharing of information and had few meetings with residents and chapter houses in the impacted area.

“Your organization has not been forthcoming,” Tso told Barr.

Barr thanked the small group for coming to the BLM but declined to speak directly about the concerns over oil and gas production around Chaco, citing pending litigation. Donna Hummel, a BLM spokeswoman who was at the noon-hour meeting, distributed a written response that cited a decision last year to defer leasing on Navajo allotment parcels.

The BLM announced on Dec. 30 that it would defer leasing in five Navajo allotment parcels, or approximately 2,803 acres, for hydraulic fracturing near Chaco Canyon.

That action was in response to a protest filed by the activist groups demanding the agency suspend hydraulic fracturing on public lands in northwest New Mexico until it can ensure the activity will not negatively affect public health, the environment and the region’s cultural heritage.

Barr told Tso and the others that the field office will release a draft of its amended Resource Management Plan and accompanying environmental impact statement by “late fall or December.”

The draft would be the first update to a plan the BLM issued in 2003.

Barr said that over the last year, the BLM has held 20 meetings at chapter houses and pueblos to talk with tribal leaders and impacted residents.

“Although we’re not calling for a ceasing of every single every bit of oil and gas drilling on every bit of federal land, we’re asking for a moratorium on all drilling and fracking in the Mancos Shale,” Timothy Ream, a member of WildEarth Guardians, said after the meeting with Barr.

Colleen Cooley, a Diné CARE member, said that any fracking near Chaco should be stopped until the Resource Management Plan is completely updated.

“We want it to be done thoroughly,” Cooley said. “(The BLM) can take their time, but it should be done to consider all the impacts — the impacts to water, the impacts to human health, to methane — before they continue any drilling there.”

But Delora Hesuse, an allottee who lives on her father’s land near Nageezi, doesn’t agree.

Hesuse wants to see increased oil drilling in the area, so her family can benefit from the revenues. She went to the meeting at the BLM on Monday to share her side of the story.

“We want (fracking in the Chaco area) to go on,” Hesuse said by phone later on Monday. “The oil companies are doing a good job. They’re not coming in and knocking down our ponderosa trees or sagebrush. They are doing right by the people and we should let them do more. I don’t understand why these groups are doing that. For us they’ve been on top of things with our family. We want it to go on.”

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

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©2015 The Daily Times (Farmington, N.M.)

Visit The Daily Times (Farmington, N.M.) at www.daily-times.com

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