We must stop Trump’s plans to frack Chaco

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LOCAL & REGION -

As com­mu­ni­ties across our state deal with the deadly coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is at­tempt­ing a mas­sive land grab, of­fer­ing mil­lions of acres of pub­lic land near Chaco Canyon Na­tional His­toric Park to oil and gas drillers for frack­ing. This plan has been slowed down be­fore, but it needs to be stopped en­tirely.

In Fe­bru­ary, the In­te­rior Depart­ment’s Bureau of Land Man­age­ment re­leased its long-awaited draft Re­source Man­age­ment Plan Amend­ment. In­stead of pro­tect­ing pub­lic lands and nat­u­ral re­sources, it essen­tially rub­ber-stamps 3,000 new frack­ing wells, some in ar­eas al­ready heav­ily bur­dened by fos­sil fuel de­vel­op­ment and the re­sult­ing pol­lu­tion. This amend­ment bla­tantly ig­nores the cu­mu­la­tive im­pacts of frack­ing on the re­gion, nearby com­mu­ni­ties and the climate.

New Mex­ico’s air and wa­ter are al­ready threat­ened by fos­sil fuel drilling, and more frack­ing means more emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide and meth­ane. Some of the most heart­break­ing im­pacts can be seen near Chaco Canyon, where breath­tak­ing arche­o­log­i­cal sites pro­vide a glimpse into 11th-cen­tury life. The Chaco area is a sa­cred place and an­ces­tral home­land of Pue­blo, Navajo, Hopi and Zuni peo­ple.

To res­i­dents of the Navajo Na­tion, this land is home, but to the oil and gas in­dus­tries, this is land to ex­ploit. At the height of the COVID-19 cri­sis, the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment tried to con­duct “vir­tual” pub­lic hear­ings on its frack­ing plan. This drew swift crit­i­cism across the state, with lead­ers like U.S. Rep. Deb Haa­land and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall con­demn­ing the move. The vast ma­jor­ity of Navajo Na­tion homes lack high-speed in­ter­net ac­cess, which means com­mu­nity mem­bers, al­ready strug­gling with a deadly virus, could not mean­ing­fully par­tic­i­pate in hear­ings about a drilling plan that would bring more pol­lu­tion into their re­gion.

Un­der pres­sure from the New Mex­ico Con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion and the Greater Chaco Coali­tion made up of indige­nous groups and en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (of which Food & Wa­ter Ac­tion is a part), the In­te­rior Depart­ment agreed to ex­tend the com­ment pe­riod last spring.

While win­ning an ex­ten­sion was im­por­tant, it is wind­ing down this month. And our real goal is not merely to de­lay this aw­ful drilling plan. What we need is an en­tirely new plan that pro­tects our land, air, wa­ter and peo­ple. That would in­clude a new en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment that prop­erly con­sid­ers all of the re­search doc­u­ment­ing the im­pacts of frack­ing on com­mu­nity health.

In­stead of hand­ing over pub­lic lands to the fail­ing frack­ing in­dus­try, we should sup­port those fight­ing to pro­tect re­gional com­mu­ni­ties and sa­cred sites from de­struc­tion and pre­serv­ing ac­cess to the ground­wa­ter nec­es­sary for life. Thou­sands of new frack­ing wells means bil­lions of gal­lons of wa­ter will be wasted on drilling for fos­sil fu­els. That drilling will cre­ate bil­lions of gal­lons of toxic, po­ten­tially ra­dioac­tive waste­water — which the oil and gas com­pa­nies want to treat and use it to ir­ri­gate crops.

We know that frack­ing causes se­ri­ous health prob­lems for peo­ple liv­ing near wells, in­clud­ing in­creased rates of asthma, mi­graines, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders. Re­cent re­search even shows a link be­tween low-birth-weight ba­bies and moth­ers who live near wells. Tribal com­mu­ni­ties have been forced to bear the bur­dens of fos­sil fuel ex­ploita­tion. If we are se­ri­ous about fight­ing for en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, this must stop. There is no bet­ter time than right now and no bet­ter place than Chaco Canyon.

Mar­garet Wadsworth is a New Mex­ico-based se­nior or­ga­nizer with the ad­vo­cacy group Food & Wa­ter Ac­tion.

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