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Earth Notes: Around Chaco Canyon, a Different Kind of Energy Boom

Many visitors know Chaco Canyon National Historical Park as a nexus of spiritual or at least archaeological energy. But these days many park advocates are worried about a different sort of energy: oil and gas production.

In recent years new roads and other infrastructure have been built leading to oil and gas wells operating as close as five miles from the park. A drop in oil prices has paused new drilling for now, but a coalition of archaeologists, environmentalists, and Native Americans are redoubling their efforts to protect the greater Chaco landscape.

A large area beyond the park contains fragile archaeological sites related to the long-departed Ancestral Puebloans. Much of the land is used by the present-day Diné people for grazing, native plant gathering, and other traditional purposes.

The environmental concerns relate to air, noise, and water pollution. Well flares and electric lights illuminate night skies that are otherwise some of the darkest in the nation.

The Bureau of Land Management oversees some of those lands and is under pressure to protect the landscape and people living in it. The agency has received thousands of public comments advocating a master plan that identifies where leasing and drilling should — and should not — occur.

The BLM is currently engaged in a planning process for the bulk of the land it oversees in northwestern New Mexico. Other neighboring lands are managed by the Navajo tribe and private landowners. Together, their decisions will help shape what the future experience of visiting Chaco Canyon will be like. 

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