CHACO CANYO — A group of environmentalists are calling for the Bureau of Land Management to compose a comprehensive leasing plan for the lower San Juan Basin in areas near Chaco Canyon National Historic Park.
"We're not against oil and gas drilling, but it has to be done properly," said Bruce Gordon, president of EcoFLight, during a flight over the park and its surroundings on Monday morning.
The Partnership for Responsible Business and the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce organized the flyover tour that included one tribal leader and a handful of journalists.
"The biggest thing is the landscape," said Keenan King, who works with the Partnership for Responsible Business.
Barbara West, a former Chaco Canyon park superintendent, and Mike Eisenfeld, with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, flew above the park on Sunday evening. They were interviewed after the flight in Farmington on Monday.
The group agreed that the BLM needed to create a "Master Leasing Plan" that would take into consideration keeping the park largely unspoiled for visitors.
"We don't want Chaco to be an island surrounded by hundreds of wells," said Paul Reed, an archeologist with Archeology Southwest and the author of "The Puebloan Society of Chaco Canyon."
The group agreed that regulations for roads, flaring and building infrastructure needed to addressed in the plan.
BLM spokeswoman Donna Hummel said the bureau is revising its resource management plan to address issues related to the development of Mancos Shale oil in southern San Juan Basin.
"A majority of the acres outside of wilderness areas are already leased," she said.
She said about 90 percent of the 1.4 million acres supervised by the Farmington District Office has already been leased.
"There isn't any BLM land adjacent to the park. It's all Navajo or state lands," she said in a phone interview.
She said the BLM has a map that is available to the public.
The group furnished a map too and Eisenfeld, the San Juan Citizens Alliance New Mexico representative, said some drilling activity is within two miles of the park.
He said he is worried about how the last 10 percent of the BLM lands will be leased and if the activity on those lands will be regulated.
"What are the plans?" he asked.
Former superintendent West said flaring needed to be addressed.
In 2013, Chaco Canyon was certified as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.
West said tourists travel to Chaco specifically for its observatory and that flaring from nearby wells could put the night sky viewing in jeopardy.
"For (tourists), their visit is ruined," she said.
Flaring, which can last up to 30 days, burns off nitrogen that is used in fracking. Flaring makes the oil or gas ready for transport.
Flaring could be reduced with the addition of gathering lines to the well sites.
Eisenfeld said the building of pipelines could be addressed in the master plan.
Hummel said the resource management plan will outline how land is used.
"Our current resource management plan designates leasing categories for every acre in the district," she said, and the plan includes right of ways, reclamation for lands and types of pipes used.
She added that the bureau's role is to manage multiple uses of public lands from different public interests.
Mike Martinez, a Pueblo of Zuni councilman, said Chaco Canyon has significant meaning to his people.
"To us, it's our homelands," he said adding that his tribe opposed oil and gas drilling near Chaco Canyon.
King, with the Partnership for Responsible Business, presented reporters with a packet that included a resolution from the All Pueblo Council of Governors supporting the protection of the park.
Navajo tribal lands surround the park, but King said the partnership has not consulted the Navajo tribe on plans for protecting the park.
Chaco Canyon has historical and cultural significance in oral stories for Navajo people and they claim they have ancestral ties to the former inhabitants of Chaco Canyon.
King said they didn't consult the tribe because the tribal leadership is about to change after Navajo president Ben Shelly's unsuccessful re-election bid.Erny Zah is The Daily Times business editor. He can be reached at 505-564-4638. firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.