BLM Pushes ahead with Oil Drilling Permits on Sacred Ground, Unhindered by Shutdown

by Vins
Published: Updated:

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to push ahead with their latest attempt to lease to oil and gas drilling companies land near New Mexico’s Chaco National Historical and other sites, which are sacred to Native American tribes. The sale deal has been criticized in part because the park is a World Heritage site, filled with stone structures and other features that archaeologists say are of religious significance. As Susan Montoya reported, under the current plan, more than 50 parcels in New Mexico and Oklahoma will be up for bid.

The battle over energy development around Chaco has been the focus of an agitated debate for years, which led to a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in an effort to revamp the area’s management plan. The partnership was meant to guarantee cultural sensitivity by ensuring that, prior to any drilling, tribes would be consulted with and scientific and archaeological analysis would be done.

Recently, land managers have declined oil and gas exploration on the land, but with the recent government shutdown in December 2018, the tense situation over the expansion of oil and gas development came to a boiling point. Democratic members of Congress along with the tribal leaders have criticized the BLM for pushing ahead with their preparations for energy leases despite the recent government shutdown.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall told the Associated Press in an email that he’s concerned about the “latest attempt to lease potentially culturally significant land in New Mexico without a more comprehensive plan in place.” Furthermore, limited government staffing during the shutdown led to an inadequate amount of information being released about the sale, and the shutdown effectively locked many essential government staff members out of the review process.

Agency spokeswoman Cathy Garber has said that officials decided to delay the lease sale by a few weeks in order to accommodate the public with a protest period. The protest period was quietly confirmed on the BLM’s website, which would allow the public to begin commenting starting on February 11, with the sale scheduled for March 28.

There has been little to no media coverage regarding the many concerns raised by critics about these oil leases being pushed forward by the BLM despite the significant impacts of the recent government shutdown on the review process. The government shutdown had only hindered the public’s ability to stay informed about the BLM’s plans for these sacred grounds.

Source: Susan Montoya, “U.S. Moves Ahead With Oil Leases Near Sacred Park,” Truthdig (via AP), January 31, 2019,

Student Researcher: Enrique Diaz (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)