ARCHAEOLOGY SOUTHWEST 10-6-14 Oil, Gas and the Chaco Landscape

Oct 6, 2014

Oil Development and the Chaco Cultural Landscape

UPDATE, October 6, 2014: Archaeology Southwest’s Paul Reed participated in a flyover aimed at building support for a comprehensive management plan to protect Chaco Canyon. Read the article here.


In a letter dated May 27, 2014, Archaeology Southwest provided comments to the Farmington Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM had solicited comments from concerned parties as it prepared to revisit and amend its Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Mancos-Gallup District in light of renewed oil and gas exploration in the region. When the BLM completed the RMP in 2003, experts presumed that oil and gas resources were exhausted and that extraction would cease.

Now, new technologies (sometimes referred to as “fracking”) are making it possible to continue to extract oil and gas from the Mancos Shale layer. The substantial increase in actual and expected exploration poses clear threats to the Chacoan cultural landscape of northwestern New Mexico. In our letter, we assessed several critical threats and proposed specific ways to mitigate potential damages.

Archaeology Southwest developed its recommendations to the BLM in conjunction with participants in our ongoing Middle San Juan Basin cultural resources priority planning process. The comments also reflect and follow on discussions that occurred at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in April.

Professional archaeologists and members of the public will meet at San Juan College in August, just before the Pecos Conference, an annual gathering of Southwestern archaeologists. Participants will consider how to preserve and protect the cultural landscapes threatened by oil development. Archaeology Southwest’s Paul Reed and Matt Peeples will attend and report on these meetings.

Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo Alto in Chaco Canyon with prehistoric roads.

Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo Alto in Chaco Canyon with prehistoric roads. © Adriel Heisey