Environmental advocates and tribal groups have filed another lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management over its continued approval of oil and gas lease sales near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, despite widespread opposition.
The national park is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered a cornerstone of Native American heritage, teeming with ancient archaeological ruins. But the area around it has faced a near-constant fight over oil and gas extraction since at least 2014.
The new suit, filed Thursday in federal District Court by counsel for the Western Environmental Law Center, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, challenges the BLM’s actions from 2016 to the present on 32 environmental assessments and 225 wells.
The same groups filed a suit in 2015 challenging the agency’s approval of lease sales between 2010 and 2016.
In April, the BLM offered drilling leases within a 10-mile radius of the culturally sensitive site, then reversed the decision after public outcry. That same month, New Mexico’s congressional delegates, all Democrats, jointly filed bills to withdraw federal lands within the 10-mile buffer zone around Chaco from further mineral development.
And in May, the State Land Office put a moratorium on leases in 73,000 acres of state trust land in the area.
Cathy Garber, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico BLM office, gave no comment on the pending litigation, citing BLM policy.
A May ruling in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal District Court ruling in the 2015 case, deciding the BLM had “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in approving environmental analyses and did not consider the cumulative impacts of horizontal drilling and multistage hydraulic fracturing” near the national park.
“The BLM therefore had to consider the cumulative impacts of all 3,960 wells when it conducted its site-specific [environmental assessments],” Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote in the opinion.
The ruling sent five environmental assessments and 25 individual well approvals back to the BLM for new evaluations.
Kyle Tisdel, staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, said the new lawsuit is targeting well approvals and environmental analyses since 2016.
“This case picks up where the last case left off,” he said. “This is the next round of permits that the agency has authorized that are being challenged.
“BLM has still not slowed down in terms of their approval,” he added, “and they suffer from some of the fundamental legal flaws the 10th Circuit [Court] of Appeals ruled on.”