Natural Gas Drilling in Chaco Canyon? WTF?

According to this story there are some, possible plans to put natural gas wells south of the visitor center:

Cimarex Energy Company, a natural gas company out of Denver, Colorado, has proposed two natural gas pads with 4 wells on the southern boundary of Chaco Canyon NHP on state of New Mexico Trust land. The two locations would be within visual distance of the Visitor Center of Chaco Canyon NHP and could significantly impact archeological-astronomical features at Chaco Canyon, that are a primary reason for Chaco Canyon’s designation as a World Heritage Site. Given that Cimarex would need to haul all of their drilling equipment in on either Route 57 or San Juan County Road (CR) 7950 there are federal law implications that have not been readily resolved concerning compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. Neither Route 57 or CR 7950 are adequately built for drill rigs to be hauled into the Chaco Canyon area – they would need significant upgrades. Cimarex is stating that they intend to start construction on their wells within the next 10 days and that they have all permits in hand. Chaco Canyon NHP has not been formally given the opportunity to respond to the proposed Cimarex natural gas wells nor have Memorandum of Understandings with state and Federal agencies been followed. Both Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) participation would be required for permitting of these wells and associated infrastructure. There is no Plan of Development for the wells which would describe long-term infrastructure needed (such as pipelines, additional roads, electricity lines, water hauling, compressors, flaring) that have the potential to adversely impact Chaco Canyon and must be fully analyzed before drilling would commence. There has also been absolutely no public notification or participation in the siting of these wells. [emphasis mine – afarensis]
The following local groups are working on this problem:
Chaco Alliance – primary contact is Anson Wright 503 709-0038
San Juan Citizens Alliance – primary contact is Mark Pearson 970
Forest Guardians
Sierra Club
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
Please take Action today by writing (emails are preferable as they provide a record trail) and/or calling the following people and telling them that the Cimarex wells have no place anywhere near Chaco Canyon:
Katherine Slick, New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer:
Barbara West Superintendent of Chaco Canyon
505 986-7014 extension 230
Mike Snyder Intermountain Regional Director of National Park
Service in Denver 303 969-2500
Representative Tom Udall website
Senator Jeff Bingaman

I find this appalling. Fortunately, PR is having an affect. According to this story the leases have been put on hold while the Land Office’s archaeologist assess the situation. Lets hope sanity prevails. Meantime, if your care about the preservation of this priceless area please contact the above individuals. This is especially important because it does not sound, to me, like everything is above board to begin with.
Update: According to this story the leases have been canceled!

ALBUQUERQUE The state Land Office initially approved the lease of two oil wells south of the visitors center at Chaco Canyon.
But now state Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons has decided not to allow a Colorado company to drill the wells.
He says there’s a moral obligation to maintain the integrity of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Denver-based Cimarex Energy Company holds the lease on 12-hundred-80 acres a mile south of the park’s boundary.
The Land Office began an archaeological review after receiving about a dozen phone calls from people concerned about the drilling.
Lyons will ask Cimarex Energy to move its drilling to another parcel of state land or will refund the ten-thousand dollars the company paid for the lease.

19 Responses

  1. Having been to Chaco Caynon, I could not imagine large equipment getting near there without significant road ‘improvement’. And with large alterations in the complex hydrology, were a significant storm can cause flash flooding.

  2. Please write to the people above and express your concern. I have…

  3. The park is not very scenic, although the anasazi dwellings are among the largest in the southwest. I remember being involving in a fight about whether some nearby badlands (Bisti) were going to be preserved -or strip mined for coal (1979-1980). Nearby Farmington and Bloomfield are primarily an oil/gas towns. The San Juan basin is a major oil/gas producer. I don’t really think that gas rigs would have too much problem navigating the road (they may have to drive slowly).
    I presume this one was slipped through the radar by the Bush Administration.

  4. My father and I visited there in the 1970’s. Chaco canyon is one of the last haunting remnants of a fallen civilization. Some disaster or combination of disasters befell them and we are left to piece together the details. The puzzle should make us stop and think.
    Small wonder someone wants to ignore its greater importance and drill for temporary profit.

  5. Beyond belief. No further proof needed that we really have become a nation of craven pimps and whores. Nothing whatsoever is sacred to these philistine slobs. Send the emails and hope these vulgarian idiots’ plans will be thwarted.

  6. The NM State Land Office has offered to swap the leases for other state land located away from Chaco and other historic or recreational sites.

  7. An Albuquerque blogger noted in a response to a comment that the Chaco Canyon thing had pretty much been stopped.

  8. I wish to point out here that this article devolves from complaining that Cimarex Energy Company didn’t follow all the rules (about which claim I have NO doubt) to “cfrost”‘s comment. It ends up to read that whether or not Cimarex “passed” all the requirements to put 2 gas wells on this land, y’all would be against it anyway. That’ basically makes you all “True Believers”, no different from the right wing nuts who tried to slip this through.
    Very disappointing for “scientists”.

  9. r.e. Oldfart’s comment . . .
    “Scientists”? Perhaps referring to the folks who are familiar with the archeological significance of the site, and who have observed that extraction structures are not minor, no-effect little things? THOSE scientists?

  10. The ones who have decided in advance of any real information that this is not a good idea. Because………..they don’t like it.
    Perhaps it is not a good idea. Perhaps it would destroy the site. Perhaps, oth, it would not do more damage to the site than a bunch of students and paleontologists digging around looking for stuff.
    The mark of the “True Believer” is that he/she/it makes judgements and assumptions BEFORE seeing the evidence.

  11. Taxpayers forked over the money to preserve the integrity and beauty of this park for future generations. They did not create a park so that when they came to visit they would be confronted with natural gas wells. If that makes us true believers then so be it. I tend to think it makes us, however, people who are concerned with the integrity of the mission of the National Park Service.

  12. You are all saying that no matter what Cimarex does to satisfy all the requirements of all the laws involved, you are against them anyway.
    You are all further implying that no fossil fuel company of any kind is welcome in “your” territory and could never possible satisfy any of your demands thereby eliminating the possiblity of any joint action that would benefit both “parties”.
    The taxpayers that forked over the money come in all shapes and varieties – some would visit the part for it’s beauty, others would be just as curious about the natural gas wells as the fossils. So, who are YOU to determine what the taxpayers intended?

  13. Someone who doesn’t want natural gas wells (four not two) messing up a world heritage site. Someone who doesn’t see how drilling a natural gas well in a national park could be of any benefit to the natural park. Someone who thinks that corporate America should not be given carte blanc with our national park system.
    Say, by any chance is this you?

  14. That is definitely NOT me. I would be insulted if I wasn’t laughing so hard.
    There are a lot of us oldfarts around.
    Some are rightwing oldfarts.
    Some are leftwing oldfarts.
    Some are independent oldfarts.
    Some just wish scientists that they look up to would be consistent.
    Rules and regulations, many of which were designed by scientists, have been set up to protect national parks. When a company (or an administration) violates these rules and regulations, you have a right to be disgusted and horrified. But then you go beyond that and say “It doesn’t matter whether they followed the regulations or not, I won’t permit them to [drill wells], [mine], [lumber] in my state park”, then you feed into the hands of those who think all the EPA regulations are bullshit anyway. Such as those who still believe that man “owns” nature and can do as “he” wishes. By taking that stand, you just prove to these people, and there are many of them, that you have a hidden agenda – similar to the hidden agenda of Greenpeace – which is to rid the earth of humans so that it can return to some idealized “pristine” state. (reductio ad absurdum).
    Well – enough BS from me. I love your blog and will continue reading it whether you think I’m the son of satan or not.

  15. No, I don’t think you are satan. I was hoping that wasn’t you actually. I do think you are reading too much into the point I am trying to make. Industrial development, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Nor do I wish to rid the world of humankind. I just happen to think there are right places and wrong places to engage in industrial development and National Parks are one of the bad places. We specifically set that land aside so there could be some pristine areas left for people to experience. In case you didn’t read the update, the state is refunding their licensing fee and is giving them the option of drilling on less sensitive land, which sounds like an acceptable solution to me.

  16. I have a tendency to over-react. Some of the most embarrassing moments in my life came from making ASSumptions and over-reacting. Fortunately, I didn’t go off the deep end this time and make enemies. (I hope).

  17. Nah, I’m pretty laid back and tolerant and I really don’t see that you did anything over the line or over reacted to anything…

  18. A bit late here, but just found this post today. It turns out that there is already oil/gas development in the neighborhood of Chaco! If you check out the USGS quad map at
    you can see the “OIL FIELD” notation a few miles SE of Fajada Butte on the back side of Chaco Mesa; it’s been in production since 1934. Does anyone know exactly where these wells were to be sited? If it’s in this existing field, the infrastructure is probably already there, which might explain the lack of BLM or BIA involvement.
    However, it looks like leasing is pretty active in that part of the state. Check out the state land office lease sale results page at It’s not very convenient, but you can go looking at each month’s results for the area around Chaco Canyon. You will find Cimarex, Yates, and others are actively buying leases on state (and no doubt other) lands. The north side of the park borders a pretty active part of the San Juan Basin; the south side seems to have been much less active.
    The solution, of course, would be to expand the park by buying up a larger buffer zone. I am sure, however, that there’s nothing to fund that in the NPS budget.

  19. In reaction to this blog, I sent an e-mail to the authorities suggested above. I received a response yesterday from Chief Ranger B.J. Ratlief, Chaco Culture NHP, with the following news story attached. (Note: subscription required to access article on-line.)

    Albuquerque Journal
    Wednesday, March 28, 2007
    No Oil Wells Near Chaco
    By Leslie Linthicum
    State Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons is pulling the plug on two oil wells proposed for just outside Chaco Canyon.
    Lyons said Tuesday — after his office was peppered with complaints about allowing drilling so close to a national treasure — that his office will ask Cimarex Energy to trade for different parcels of state trust land.
    If the company doesn’t want to trade, the Land Office will reject the application and refund the $10,000 that Cimarex paid for the leases.
    “We have a moral obligation to maintain the integrity of Chaco Canyon,” Lyons said.
    Cimarex had plans to drill two wells on state trust land about one mile beyond the southern boundary of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The Land Office approved leases for the sites late last year and was in the process of reviewing archaeological studies before issuing final approval.
    A Cimarex spokesman did not return phone calls from the Journal on Monday or Tuesday.
    Lyons said he thought Cimarex would agree to transfer the lease to another area.
    “I think they’re going to be receptive,” he said. If the company does not want to swap, he said, “they’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.”
    Lyons said his office originally understood Cimarex, a Colorado energy company, planned to drill for natural gas. He said he learned Tuesday that the company planned to drill for oil, which would necessitate pump jacks that could be seen from inside the park.
    Lyons said he wants to work with Chaco and other federal agencies that hold land around the park on a series of land trades that could build a no-development buffer around the park.
    “We’ve got plenty of land,” Lyons said. “We don’t need to be right up against their boundary.”
    That comes as welcome news to critics who complained that oil and gas exploration on the edge of the park would detract from the experience of visiting ancient Indian ruins.
    Chaco is a World Heritage Site and its collection of pre-Puebloan ruins draws visitors from around the world to San Juan County.
    “That’s terrific news. I’m glad to hear that,” said Mark Pearson, director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, which had opposed the drilling.
    Assistant Land Commissioner John Bemis said the office will begin to identify other tracts of state trust land where development might harm historical sites. The office could withdraw the tracts from leasing or trade the parcels to other agencies.
    “Our preferred method is to exchange land and trade out of it because we don’t want these conflicts,” Bemis said.
    Pearson praised the idea of building a buffer.
    “That sounds like a real positive long-term solution,” he said.
    The goal of the Land Office is to make money from the land it holds in trust by approving leases for mineral extraction. Royalties from trust land — $495 million in the last fiscal year — support schools, hospitals, prisons and other public projects in New Mexico.
    “Everyone agrees that the oil and gas industry plays a critical role in funding institutions and programs across the state,” Lyons said. “But we also agree that New Mexico has an extraordinary and unique history that must be protected and preserved.”

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