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Navajo Nation Council opposes proposed drilling ban near Chaco Canyon

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Eric Draper/AP, file
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The Navajo Nation Council is opposing a Biden administration plan to ban new oil and gas drilling within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for 20 years.

The Navajo Nation Council is opposing a Biden administration plan to ban new oil and gas drilling within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for 20 years. Lawmakers say it could have negative economic effects on tribal communities within the area.

According to members of the Navajo Council, the U.S. Interior Department proposed the ban last month without proper tribal consultation.

They say allotted landowners near Chaco Canyon stand to lose vital income from potential oil and gas leases on their land if the plan goes through.

Speaker Seth Damon acknowledges the area does need added protections and has instead requested a smaller five-mile buffer for the site many members of area tribes and pueblos consider sacred.

“The Biden administration bypassed previous requests to Congress for field hearings and for leaders to hear directly from our Navajo families affected in the Chaco Canyon region," Damon says. "It is important that the federal government consider and work with our Navajo allottees to further advance development. The administration must respect our tribal sovereignty and what the government-to-government relationship entails."

The Interior Department says existing oil and gas leases won’t be affected. Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico, has long advocated for the ban, and has said expanded oil and gas development poses serious threats to the Chaco Canyon area.

The Bureau of Land Management says it’ll conduct an environmental analysis, along with tribal consultation and public comment over the next two years.

Chaco Canyon is one of the oldest and most important Indigenous areas in the U.S. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

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.