Biden Administration Protects Portion of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon from Oil and Gas Leasing

WASHINGTON – President Biden and Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland announced today that the Department will propose to withdraw federal lands from oil and gas leasing for 20 years within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO world heritage site in northern New Mexico. The Greater Chaco Region is a sacred landscape replete with cultural resources significant to Pueblos, the Navajo Nation, and other Tribal Nations and Native communities.

The following is a statement from Alison Kelly, senior attorney for lands at NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council):

“Polluters have for too long had their way with this sacred region. Today’s move is a good step toward more meaningful sovereign tribal government-to-government consultation and essential protections for this region in collaboration with frontline communities. We cannot afford to sacrifice regions like Greater Chaco to the fossil fuel industry if we want to try to avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

The announcement took place at a White House tribal summit celebrating Native American Heritage Day in which President Biden promised to “make some substantial change in Indian Country.”  It is one piece of a larger policy package Biden says will protect tribal treaty rights, ensure tribal consultation, incorporate tribal ecological knowledge into the federal government’s scientific approach and address violence against Native Americans.

The move will protect this area from new federal oil and gas leasing and drilling within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park and will initiate a consultation process with sovereign tribal governments as well as opportunities for public participation.


Chaco Canyon was the center of ancestral Puebloan culture beginning in the mid-800s.  It flourished for more than 300 years.  Archeological research in the park has yielded over 1.5 million artifacts and archival documents that reflect the history of the Chaco culture. The park is only a piece of the Greater Chaco Cultural Landscape—and is at the core of a much larger Ancestral Puebloan civilization that extended for hundreds of miles in the central San Juan Basin. 

There are already over one million acres of land open to oil and gas leasing consisting of more than 37,000 existing oil and wells drilled as of August 2017.  Extensive oil and gas development in the Greater Chaco region threatens the health and safety of surrounding communities and park visitors, natural resources, viewsheds, spiritual practices of Native peoples and cultural and archaeological resources.  New Mexico is the second largest oil producer in the United States, now responsible for nearly half of all federal extractive emissions.

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