The Chaco Canyon park, an area of roughly 30,000 acres in the high desert mesas of northwest New Mexico, was established in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is home to a vast network of pre-Columbian ruins. Between the ninth and 13th centuries, the area was home to a large, complex society of Pueblo culture, with multiple settlements of multistory houses and sacred sites. But for the past decade, Pueblo and other Native groups have expressed concerns that oil and gas development was encroaching on the borders of the park.
While Congress has enacted some short-term drilling bans around the park, there has been no long-term or permanent policy to block drilling at its edges.
Enacting the new plan to protect the area around Chaco Canyon will be Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary. Ms. Haaland, a former environmental activist, is a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, a sovereign nation near Albuquerque.
“Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked and thrived in that high desert community,” Ms. Haaland said. “Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations. I value and appreciate the many tribal leaders, elected officials and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”
The administration has recently proposed tough new regulations on oil and gas producers, and industry representatives immediately raised questions about the new move.
“There doesn’t appear to be a scientific or environmental rationale for that 10-mile radius,” said Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association. “And given the role that oil and gas plays in the economy of that area, we shouldn’t have an arbitrary number that would limit economic opportunities, perhaps the only economic opportunities, in that part of the state.”
“No one is saying that we want to develop inside the park or that we need to be directly inside its boundaries,” Mr. McEntyre added. “But the 10-mile number appears to be arbitrary. Especially over such a long period that could have generational consequences.”