New Mexico's Chaco Canyon gets a reprieve from drilling threats

Chaco Canyon

Bill Gracey

Back in July we highlighted a list of spectacular places in America that are threatened by oil and gas drilling, including New Mexico’s storied Chaco Canyon.

Our Too Wild to Drill report listed Chaco Canyon as one a special 12 wild places that need protections from otherwise imminent oil and gas drilling.

Now we are pleased to report that on Sept. 4, the BLM released an environmental assessment that suggests areas around the park not be leased for oil and gas drilling. 

Chaco Canyon National Historic Park is home to priceless Pueblo and Chacoan cultural artifacts and ruins, not to mention migrating elk, blooming wildflowers and pinyon-juniper woodlands. 

But proposed drilling right at the park’s doorstep – with drilling leases being considered less than a quarter mile from the park boundaries – threatened to mar the scenic beauty of the area. The Wilderness Society has been calling for better leasing plans in the area, that would ensure oil and gas drilling won’t stand to ruin what generations have considered sacred ground.

The BLM suggests different route forward

Looking at petroglyphs at Chaco Canyon. Photo by Travis S., flickr

Fortunately, the Bureau of Land Management, who oversees the lands surrounding the park, is suggesting that areas around the park be kept off-limits to drilling for the time being. 

The draft plan, which will be finalized in October, would allow drilling on areas next to existing oil and gas development, but still away from the park’s cultural and environmental resources.

This is a great step towards safeguarding Chaco Canyon, which was first designated for protection by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907.

The area is an archaeologist’s dream, with many ruins and artifacts from ancestral American Indian tribes. It’s also one of the darkest parks in America, making it a destination for astronomers.

This kind of balanced approach from the BLM is exactly what should be done in other areas across the west – identify the values of the land, and protect the ones that are too wild to drill. We are hopeful that other destinations highlighted in Too Wild to Drill also see these kinds of protections in the future.

Read about the threat to Chaco Canyon in the full Too Wild to Drill report: 

Too Wild to Drill Report Final by The Wilderness Society