Despite strong objections from Native Americans in the area, the Biden administration is now reportedly pressing through with a 20-year restriction on new oil and gas leasing near an Indigenous cultural site in New Mexico.
The decision, which prohibits mineral and fossil fuel leasing inside a 10-mile radius of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in western New Mexico, was completed on Friday by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
The prohibition finally results in the withdrawal of some 336,404 acres of public lands near the location some Native Americans regard as holy from mineral leasing.
The decision was made almost two years after the DOI and BLM originally suggested the 10-mile radius lease restriction at the Chaco Canyon property.
However, the surrounding Navajo Nation, regional authorities, and energy providers have all vehemently opposed the idea.
In a letter to President Biden in 2021, Jonathan Nez, the president of the Navajo Nation, and Vice President Myron Lizer expressed their concern that the decision would have a “devastating impact” on tribe people who have a financial stake in the area’s drilling.
Additionally, the San Juan County Board of Commissioners in New Mexico adopted a resolution last year condemning the DOI administration plan.
Opponents of the buffer zone claimed that even while the DOI acknowledged on Friday that the decision won’t affect current leases or the output under those leases, it will still indirectly destroy the value of allotments owned by Indians.
According to Navajo Nation data, there are presently 53 Indian allotments spread within the so-called 10-mile buffer zone surrounding Chaco Canyon, producing $6.2 million in royalties annually for an estimated 5,462 allottees.
In addition, there are 16,615 allottees linked with 418 unleased allotments in the zone.
If the plan is approved and put into effect, the Western Energy Alliance, a business organization that speaks for local producers, estimates that Navajo members will lose $194 million over the following 20 years.