Despite protests from Native Americans, environmentalists and others, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday auctioned oil and gas drilling rights to 843 acres in the Chaco Canyon region of northwest New Mexico.
The rights sold for $3 million, according to the BLM.
At least 15 bidders participated in the online auction, but the agency didn’t immediately provide the names or corporate interests of the bidders, including those who won the drilling rights.
The sale of the parcels had been postponed on three occasions since 2012.
Rachael Lorenzo, a policy associate with the group Young Women United, called the sale “a direct assault on indigenous history and culture.”
“The health and safety of Indigenous people and all New Mexicans are at stake,” she said in a statement.
Replete with archaeological sites, including Indian ruins, the area of Chaco Canyon National Historic Park has particular significance for Native communities.
Those who live in the area say existing oil and gas drilling is already polluting the air and environment. The Farmington area is home to the United States’ largest concentration of methane pollution, one of the most dense greenhouse gases. Living close to methane pollution has been linked to poor health, particularly respiratory problems.
BLM officials said they needed to move ahead with the auction because of a loss of federal royalties due to extraction of the area’s oil and gas by nearby operators on state and private land.
Drilling rights to four parcels totaling 843 acres sold for $2.93 million, with $1.4 million going to the state of New Mexico. Federal regulations dictate that 48 percent of revenues generated in such sales goes to the state.
Opponents of the drilling say BLM’s current management plan for the area fails to assess the implications of fracking — deep, horizontal drilling that uses high-pressure water to extract oil from rock — on the environment and public health in the area.
The auction was planned before President Donald Trump took office, but Rebecca Sobel of WildEarth Guardians said the sale is the latest sign of the administration’s disregard for the environment.
“Trump has clearly demonstrated he doesn’t care about public health, tribal sovereignty, or environmental protection, and allowing these contested parcels to go forward is evidence of that,” she said in an email. “Trump’s Bureau of Land Management is fast tracking irreversible land management decisions, handing over the rights of public and tribal lands to the oil and gas industry.”
Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.