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Biden administration proposes 20-year oil and gas ban near Chaco Canyon

Chaco NPS
President Joe Biden has proposed a 20-year ban on new oil and gas leases within 10 miles surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.

The Biden administration has proposed banning new oil and gas leases surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. It follows years of efforts by Southwestern tribes to protect the culturally sensitive area. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

President Joe Biden’s order would prohibit oil and gas development within a 10-mile radius of Chaco for 20 years. He made the announcement Monday at the White House Tribal Nations summit.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who’s a member of New Mexico’s Pueblo of Laguna, has also ordered a broader review of the area to preserve sacred sites and other cultural resources.

“Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked, and thrived in that high desert community,” said Haaland. “Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations. I value and appreciate the many Tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”

Tribes for years have advocated for broader protections at Chaco, one of the oldest and most significant Indigenous sites in the country. They say oil and gas development has been encroaching on its borders in recent years.

The Bureau of Land Management in the coming weeks will begin environmental analysis and public comment for the plan. The decision doesn’t affect existing valid leases or minerals owned by private, state or tribal entities.

Chaco first received federal protection in 1907 and has since been expanded several times. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site more than 30 years ago.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.