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The Biden administration is expected to soon finalize a rule banning oil and gas rentals near a Native American historic site despite strong opposition from local Native leaders, who say the administration’s rule would prevent them from collecting royalties on their lands.
The rule, announced by the Department of the Interior (DOI) in November 2021, would implement a 20-year moratorium on federal leasing of oil and gas within 10 miles of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park located in northwestern New Mexico. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the rule, which would amount to removing 336,000 acres of public land from the mining lease, would protect the environment and the region’s “rich cultural heritage”.
“We’re not destroying anything — we’re Native Americans ourselves. Nobody’s destroying the park,” Delora Hesuse, a Navajo Nation citizen who owns allotted land in the Grand Chaco region, told Fox News Digital in a statement. interview. “The oil companies are certainly not destroying the park. And they have new technology.”
“It just seems like they’re listening to environmentalists more,” she continued.
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Hesuse represents a group of Navajo citizens who own land that has been allotted to them by the federal government for generations and is often leased to oil and gas drilling and exploration companies. The group opposes the Biden administration’s rule, saying it would prevent them from collecting much-needed royalties on land they’ve held for decades.
Although the administration said the rule would not affect Indian-owned allotments, blocking federal land leases would ultimately block development on non-federal lands, according to Hesuse and other parties. local stakeholders, including Navajo Nation leaders.
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“In reality, the rule would have a devastating impact because the indirect effects would render awarded land worthless from an energy extraction perspective,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer wrote. in a letter to President Biden in November criticizing the proposal.
“To maximize complete product extraction, a horizontal lateral traverse of two to four miles underground may be required,” they added. “Due to the status of interjurisdictional lands in the Eastern Navajo Agency, a proposed horizontal lateral may have to cross federal lands.”
The Navajo Nation Council also condemned the proposal, saying it would instead support a five-mile radius, an industry-backed compromise. Council delegate Mark Freeland said the families on the allotted land were “ignored” by the DOI.
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Additionally, the San Juan County, New Mexico, Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in April saying it “strongly opposes” the Biden administration’s proposal. The resolution noted that the rule would make it impossible for owners of individual Indian allotments to drill and extract minerals since the pipelines must cross federal lands below the surface.
“It’s really going to impact the beneficiaries if they go through with the removal of federal lands and public lands around Chaco Canyon,” Hesuse said.
Hesuse noted that the Navajo community is extremely impoverished, and oil and gas revenues are essential to support many people.
There are currently 53 Indian settlements located within the so-called 10-mile buffer zone around Chaco Canyon, generating $6.2 million a year in royalties for about 5,462 claimants, according to the Navajo Nation. Additionally, there are 418 unleased developments in the area which are associated with over 16,000 tenants.
“We’re very poor. It’s like living in a third world. No help from the government, no help from the tribe,” Jean Armenta, another Navajo citizen with allotted land, told Fox News Digital. “Many of us don’t have electricity or running water.”
“I’m for drilling, I’m for drilling,” she added. “People need money.”
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Both Armenta and Hesuse criticized Haaland for prioritizing demands from environmentalists over indigenous peoples. Navajo leaders also accused DOI leaders of failing to properly consult with Navajo beneficiaries on the proposal.
“Deputy Secretary Newland, BLM Director Stone-Manning, and leaders of their two teams have traveled to the Navajo Nation several times to meet with grantees, Navajo leaders, and community members,” the door said. – DOI spokesperson, Melissa Schwartz, to Fox News Digital. “The public also had the opportunity to provide feedback.”
“We are deeply committed to engaging with various stakeholders on this process as well as the broader Honoring Chaco initiative facilitated by the BLM,” she continued.
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Last week, the DOI issued guidelines to strengthen the role of tribes in the management of federal lands. Despite this advice, the administration has not publicly acknowledged the proposed compromise on the five-mile buffer proposed by the Council of the Navajo Nation.
“This administration is talking about consulting with tribes,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, told Fox News Digital in an interview. “But when the tribes pass legislation offering a compromise to the federal government, the federal government has ignored it.”
Sgamma’s group represents companies with active drilling projects in the Chaco region.
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“We provide a source of income in a poor area,” she continued.
“These are people who own these minerals and are landowners,” she said. “When the federal government encroaches on Navajo homeowners, it’s hard to tell this administration is committed to environmental justice.”
Overall, New Mexico is one of the most fossil fuel-rich states in the country — it produced the second-largest crude oil and was one of the top ten producers of natural gas last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. The state also has 9% of proven crude oil reserves in the United States and 6% of proven natural gas reserves, making it a major contributor to the total energy supply.
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New Mexico’s energy industry is responsible for about 100,000 jobs and has an economic impact of $12.8 billion annually, according to the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association.
“More than 100,000 of my fellow New Mexicans are employed by the oil and gas industry, which also supports our public education system through royalties and taxes,” said Rep. Yvette Herrell, RN. M., to Fox News Digital in a statement.
“The Biden administration would rather freeze permits, political gimmicks and erect barriers to home energy innovation than promote affordable, reliable and clean energy, and American families are the ones who will bear the brunt of that.”