Quantcast
Fracking

Will Fracking Be the Demise of Chaco Canyon National Historical Park?

Once the center of a thriving population of native people, Chaco Canyon National Historical Park is now the object of a battle for its very existence. The key Native American heritage site came under increased threat last month when a federal judge ruled to allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to continue to permit new gas and oil drilling permits in the Mancos shale in Northwest New Mexico. Now, more than 165,000 people have signed petitions calling on elected officials from New Mexico to protect the land from hydraulic fracturing or fracking, Meanwhile, a bill that would prohibit fracking on all federal public lands, is gaining sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Once the center of a thriving population of native people, Chaco Canyon National Historical Park is now the object of a battle for its very existence. Photo credit: Chaco Culture NHP

In 1987, Chaco National Historical Park was designated on the UNESCO World Heritage list with the stipulation that “interventions that may occur within or adjacent to the property—including development, energy exploration, extraction and transportation projects—do not have a negative impact on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, authenticity and integrity.” As custodians, we must honor this mandate by protecting Chaco Canyon from the threat of ever-expanding fossil fuel drilling, including fracking, as well as the possible transport of crude oil through the area via the proposed Pinon Pipeline.

Water scarcity is a major concern in this region, but that doesn’t stop the industry from fracking near Chaco Canyon. Fracking is a dangerous horizontal drilling technique that pollutes millions of gallons of fresh water with dozens of toxic chemicals and sand and blasts the mixture deep underground to force out natural gas lodged in shale deposits. The arid desert offers precious little water for these kinds of processes. As such, the industry transports truckload after truckload of water to its well sites, forever scarring the land in its wake. After it is used in fracking, the toxic wastewater becomes a disposal problem for the industry, which injects it into wells, a practice known to threaten aquifers and cause earthquakes in some areas.

Chaco Canyon is a sacred historical place to Native American people in the region. But, these “frackquakes” could destabilize heritage sites like Pueblo Bonito, a celebrated cultural site in Chaco Canyon. At one time the largest single dwelling in North America, Pueblo Bonito stands as a testament to the organizational and engineering abilities of the ancestral Pueblo peoples.

Chaco Canyon is a sacred historical place to Native American people in the region. Photo credit: Chaco Culture NHP

“Navajo people are extremely devastated by the fracking on our land,” said Elouise Brown, a member of the Navajo Nation and president of Dooda (NO) Desert Rock Organization. “We have rights which are being violated.”

Pueblo Bonito now stands crumbling. And earthquakes aren’t the only threat: the continued vibration of dozens of industrial trucks pounding down rural roads each day will only hasten the destruction of these ruins, already fragile from exposure to the elements. Once they are buried, simply unearthing the ruins triggers immediate deterioration.

Read page 1

“Our sacred sites and ceremonial grounds are being defiled,” said Brown. “We must keep fracking out of not only Chaco Canyon but from Mother Earth.”

In addition to being an invaluable historic site, Chaco Canyon is prized for its remoteness. To access Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, one must drive on roughly 13-16 miles of washboard road, passable only under good conditions. The rural nature of the Park keeps its sacred secrets from casual onlookers. And since it was certified as an International Dark Sky Park, visitors have been able to enjoy the same dark sky enjoyed by ancient residents. Sadly, increased day and night drilling has encroached upon this designation.

“The Canyon is a one of a kind place,” said John Sefick, an astronomer and longtime supporter of Chaco Canyon who is a founding member of Friends of Chaco. “We’ve fought for years just to keep them from paving the access roads which would then open the area to more traffic and drilling which in turn could cause irreparable harm to the ruins. I am against any gas exploration in the region.”

The rural nature of the Park keeps its sacred secrets from casual onlookers. Photo credit: Chaco Culture NHP

But, Chaco Canyon is nestled in the central San Juan Basin of Northwestern New Mexico, a region now exploding with shale gas extraction, which releases a host of greenhouse gases and pollution into the air. In 2014, the Four Corners Region was identified as the major U.S. hot spot for emissions of methane—a by-product of natural gas fracking and a greenhouse gas considerably more potent than carbon dioxide. Researchers using satellite images found the highest concentration of methane gas in the country where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah converge. Encompassing an area of 2,500 square miles (the size of Delaware), the “hot spot” is visible from space. In 2013 alone, enough natural gas was flared and wasted in the region to supply Los Angeles for a year.

When one stands in Chaco Canyon, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would knowingly harm a place so unique and wondrous. But, in recent years, the hunger for fossil fuels and the insatiable greed of mega-corporations has eclipsed what should be a greater priority in all of our lives: leaving a sustainable world for generations to come. The State of New Mexico is primarily dependent upon extreme energy extraction like fracking to fund education and basic infrastructure. But if fossil fuels continue to be our primary source of energy and their tax revenue the underpinnings of our public programs in New Mexico, the greed of an unscrupulous industry will supersede the heritage of a once vibrant civilization.

Members of the U.S. Congress have the power to protect Chaco Canyon from fracking nearby on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. The Protect Our Public Lands Act, introduced by Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), would prohibit fracking, the use of fracking fluid and acidization for the extraction of oil and gas on public lands for any lease issued, renewed or readjusted.

The Protect Our Public Lands Act is essential to protect our air, water and health from fracking and to preserve historical sites like Chaco Canyon National Historical Park and our treasured public lands across the country.

“If Mother Earth is continued to be fracked and damaged,” said Elouise Brown, “where will our future generations call home?”

Eleanor Bravo is the southwest organizer for Food & Water Watch. She is based in Albuquerque and first visited Chaco Canyon in l979 when she first moved to New Mexico. It remains to her and her family the most special place in the state.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Illegal Dumping of Fracking Wastewater May Be Linked to Radioactivity in PA Creek, Experts Say

Why Are Climate Groups Only Focused on 50% of the Solution?

President Obama, Your Climate Legacy Lies with Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

10 Tips for Hosting a Wonderful and Waste-Free Holiday

By Clara Chaisson

For many, the holiday season is a time of plenty. But with all the feasting, the decorations and the gift swapping, it can be easy to go overboard. And for hosts, especially, there's a lot of pressure to make sure guests feel adequately stuffed and the house looks sufficiently bedecked.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Taylor Energy spill seen from space in 2017. SkyTruth

Clean Up 14-Year Oil Spill or Face $40K Daily Fine, Feds Tell Taylor Energy

The U.S. Coast Guard has ordered Taylor Energy Co. to clean and contain a 14-year chronic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or face a fine of $40,000 a day.

Environmentalists had warned about the unrelenting leak for years after the Gulf Restoration Network and the watchdog group SkyTruth discovered oil slicks via satellite imagery while investigating the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Amitabh Bachchan TeachAids / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Indian Cinema Legend Clears Debts of 1,398 Farmers

Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan said he has "taken care" of 1,398 farmers by wiping out more than $560,000 (40m rupees) of their debt, BBC News reported.

"Gratitude leans across to the desire of removing some of the burdens that farmers continue to suffer from ... and the inner peace it generates when the desired is completed," the 76-year-old Indian film legend wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A Chinese sturgeon, one of a handful on display, is seen at the Chinese Sturgeon Aquarium in Hong Kong. Shankar S. / Flickr

After 140 Million Years, Chinese Sturgeons May Soon Be Extinct

By Jason Bittel

More than 16 feet long and weighing up to 1,100 pounds, Chinese sturgeons are among the world's largest freshwater fish. They're big and they're ancient. According to fossil records, they've been swimming China's Yangtze, Qiantang, Minjiang and Pearl Rivers since the time of the dinosaurs.

And now they're on the brink of oblivion, having disappeared from all of their former range except for small portions of the Yangtze.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Dewayne Johnson, the first man to bring Monsanto to trial over Roundup and win, now faces an appeal. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

A Roundup Trial Roundup

Tuesday was a big news day for the growing legal movement to hold Monsanto accountable for selling a widely-used weed killer that plaintiffs say gave them or their loved ones cancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
"Nature's heterogeneity and biodiversity are at the epicenter of my thankfulness and happiness. Here, deep within a saline wetland, morning light shines through the dew covered understory revealing an orb-weaver's web." Dakota Altman

'Everything Is Interconnected': Photo of Radiant Spider Web Wins EcoWatch Contest

EcoWatch is excited to announced the winner of our first-ever Gratitude Photo Contest. Participants sent us their best shots of what in nature they were most thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Our three amazing judges—Greenpoint Innovations founder Stephen Donofrio, marine scientist Gaelin Rosenwaks and documentary photographer Marc Bryan-Brown—picked their favorites from more than 70 photo entries of breathtaking landscapes, incredible wildlife and majestic waterways.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Health agencies say avoid romaine lettuce as they investigate an E. coli outbreak. Agricultural Resources Service / USDA

E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce

If you're hosting Thanksgiving tomorrow, be sure to leave romaine lettuce off the menu! The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are warning everyone to avoid the classic salad green until investigators can pinpoint the exact source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 32 people in 11 states.

The FDA advised Americans to stop eating romaine and to toss any that's left in the fridge. Restaurants and retailers should also stop serving it until more is known.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Map of damage to the town of Paradise from the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. NASA / JPL-Caltech

Heavy Rain Could Trigger Mudslides in Fire-Weary California

Northern California, which is already reeling from the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, is now bracing for heavy rainfall this week.

The forecasted rain could bring much-needed relief for the firefighters battling the Camp Fire in Butte County. However, it could also bring new hazards due to possible ash, mud and debris flows triggered by the rain.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!