Fracking Injunction Fails

Environmental groups seeking to pause development near Chaco are told oil and gas profits win

A federal judge has failed to grant an injunction to temporarily halt on oil and gas drilling in Navajo lands and the area around Chaco Culture National Historic Park. The preliminary injunction would have nullified 265 recently approved applications to drill in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico, often within 20 miles of the national park. Yet, now the practice will continue as the court process moves along.

Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and Natural Resources Defense Council, represented by attorneys from Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians, turned to the federal court to pause oil and gas development in the area, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management was proceeding with issuing permits to drill and frack without having conducted the environmental review and drafted a comprehensive plan as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The judge's decision weighed whether the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in making that case, and whether the injury plaintiffs would sustain outweighed the injury caused to the defendants by the injunction.

"The plaintiffs have put forth enough evidence to cast some doubt on the thoroughness of the BLM's decision making, but they have not made the necessary showing that the BLM failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of its actions, or that its decision making was arbitrary and capricious," the decision reads.

It found in favor of the almost certain loss of profits oil and gas companies would suffer were they unable to develop wells on those leases, over the "enhanced possibility of an injury" that the plaintiffs claimed on behalf of the environment and local residents.

"Full-scale, unregulated oil and gas development continues to impose devastating impacts on Dinétah (Navajo homelands) and surrounding areas," Colleen Cooley of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment said in a press release.

An appeal is likely.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, representatives from 11 anti-fracking groups visited the offices of New Mexico's US senators and representatives to deliver petitions with more than 165,000 signatures supporting an end to fracking in the Chaco area. Copies would also be delivered to Washington DC offices on Wednesday.

Cultural resources and artifacts in the Chaco area have been found well beyond the boundaries of the national park, and include ancestral Puebloan ruins and hundreds of miles of ceremonial roads, many already affected by oil and gas development in the area.

"BLM's decision to fast-track fracking near Chaco Canyon over massive public objection shows they're putting oil and gas industry profits ahead of the public interest," Pete Dronkers, Southwest Circuit Rider with Earthworks, said in a press release. "By using outdated planning documents and ignoring many in the region who want no drilling near Chaco, BLM tells us that it is not interested in meaningful consultation with local people."

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.