The Chaco Road and Opposition to Oil and Gas Development

The Chaco Alliance formed in 2006 in opposition to an attempt to chip seal the main road into Chaco (CR 7950) without any impact studies that would protect Chaco Culture National Historical Park (CCNHP), or the archeological sites in and along the road. The Chaco Alliance organized the initial meeting with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in late August of 2006, and we were the sole citizens' group personally represented at that meeting. Although the FHWA initially planned to grant a Categorical Exclusion to the project, preventing all analysis of impacts, the FHWA agreed to place the road improvement project under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) law.

It was the Chaco Alliance's position from the start that the improvements to the road were primarily driven by an attempt to open up better and easier access for economic development. Within a few years, the BLM would offer thousands of acres near the park for lease to the oil and gas industry. Also from the start, we supported improvements to the road short of chip sealing and under the protections of NHPA. Studies showed that chip sealing could dramatically increase visitation to the park, overwhelming the fragile ecosystem as well as putting infrastructure and archeological sites at risk. We demanded proper procedure and proper consultation, especially with the tribes. San Juan County had letters from both the Hopi Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni asking for consultation before the initial work on the first three miles of road began in 2006. To our knowledge, they were not consulted.

In 2007 the Chaco Alliance was part of a coalition of groups that stopped Cimerax from putting wells on state land just below the border of the park, south of Fajada Butte. In 2009 the Chaco Alliance alerted the Hopi Preservation Department that the BLM intended to offer for lease almost 10,000 acres of land just outside the park. In October 2009, the BLM withdrew its lease proposal thanks primarily to the efforts of the Hopi, working in concert with the Chaco Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office wrote to the BLM: "Because the Hopi Tribe and other Pueblo tribes have not been consulted, appropriate consultations have not been concluded…Therefore we protest this lease sale and request that it be canceled or postponed until appropriate consultations have been concluded." In early 2010 the Chaco Alliance and San Juan Citizens Alliance were granted consulting party status under Section 106 of NHPA for all oil and gas leasing within ten miles of Chaco. The Hopi, Navajo Nation, and the New Mexico State Historic Preservation division unanimously agreed to offer consulting party status to both groups.

In October of 2010 the Chaco Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and National Trust submitted a Master Leasing Plan designed to protect both the park and nearby landscape. It was summarily rejected, as was another 2013 Administrative Petition submitted by the Chaco Alliance, Wild Earth Guardians, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Society for American Archeology, and the New Mexico Archeological Council to declare an Area Of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) around the park. The petition to declare the park and the Greater Chaco Landscape an ACEC was supported by both the Hopi and the Navajo Nation. These two early efforts, although denied, and years of meetings and discussion with the BLM, informed and foreshadowed the current effort to restrict fracking on federal land within ten miles of the park. The Hopi Tribe wrote to the BLM in 2013: "We have repeatedly stated that oil and gas leasing and development on FDO lands surrounding Chaco threaten the Park and the Greater Chaco Landscape. We have reiterated that the co-mingling of energy development and resource protection around Chaco will inevitably lead to adverse effects to cultural resources significant to the Hopi Tribe. We have consulted with the FDO and parties including the National Trust, Chaco Alliance, and the San Juan Citizens Alliance regarding the development and implementation of a permanent plan for preserving the landscape surrounding Chaco."

As the BLM continued to propose leasing more parcels and was met with opposition, San Juan County continued to pursue its desire to chip seal the road. Surprisingly, in 2012 San Juan County agreed to a stabilized aggregate alternative as a compromise in the Chaco Road improvement NEPA/NHPA process. But in late 2012 they reversed course and decided to abandon the project altogether. SJ County renewed its focus in 2014 and chose to improve the road using the stabilized aggregate alternative they had agreed to in their 2012 compromise, but without doing consultation or mitigation for the six sites in and along the roadway. In August 2014, the Hopi Tribe wrote that they "share the Chaco Alliance's concerns that improvements have been or are about to be made to CR7950 without consultation or compliance." The Chaco Alliance was in frequent communication with the Hopi, the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office, BLM, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation about proper permitting procedure, questionable Right of Way claims, and lacking tribal consultation. The source of the funding for the 2014 8.21 mile road improvement is not clear, but it does not appear to be federal.

In 2013 the BLM attempted a larger offering of almost 19,000 acres for oil and gas leasing in the greater Chaco landscape.This massive lease sale was prevented by the on-going opposition of the Hopi, in concert with the Chaco Alliance and the groups mentioned above as well as others. Although many of the parcels were deferred, we continued to call for permanent protection. Our 2013 ACEC petition referenced above would have done just that. It was rejected in 2014. In 2014 the BLM moved ahead with an attempt to open over four million acres of land for full field development of gas and oil by preparing a Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement to address issues relating to oil and gas development which were unplanned for in the 2003 management plan. We have been a consulting party to the Mancos Shale RMPA and related EIS since 2014. We were also a consulting party to the now defunct 2014 Saddle Butte Pinon Pipeline Project. Since 2015 numerous attempts have been made to offer more acreage near CCNHP and in the greater Chaco landscape for lease to the oil and gas industry. Many of these leasing attempts have been deferred or withdrawn because of growing demands for meaningful consultation and expanding, organized indigenous opposition.

We continue to believe that energy development is incompatible with cultural resource protection. We have called for many years for a moratorium on all new drilling in the greater Chaco landscape until a new Regional Management Plan has been adopted. The Chaco Alliance has been a member of the Greater Chaco Coalition since 2015. In 2018, the Chaco Alliance along with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, Wild Earth Guardians, Western Environmental Law Center, and others submitted scoping comments opposing the BLM's scheduled December 2018 lease sale of thousands of acres near Chaco, some within ten miles of the park. In September of 2020, the Chaco Alliance along with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, Wild Earth Guardians, Western Environmental Law Center, Pueblo Action Alliance, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, and others submitted over 150 pages of comments on the Draft RMPA/ EIS. In 2022, along with Western Environmental Law Center, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Wild Earth Guardians and others, we submitted extensive comments on the Chaco Withdrawal Environment Assessment proposed by Secretary Haaland and the Department of the Interior. We have long supported a ten mile buffer zone around the park as well as any federal legislation that would permanently protect the park, the impacted local communities, and the greater Chaco landscape. We have long demanded environmental justice, an end to the sacrifice zone mentality that has created an industrialized landscape that threatens communities and sacred sites.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

An Ancient World

Chaco Culture NHP in North-Central New Mexico is a very special place. It was inhabited for many hundreds of years and its culture peaked a millennium ago — before that of the more widely known Mesa Verde site.

Chaco at Sunset

Chaco at sunset from NPS housing.


Rock art on the Peñasco Blanco trail. Peñasco Blanco is an unexcavated great house.

Fajada Butte

Fajada Butte, home of the Sun Dagger site.

Bis sa'ani

Navajo for "clay in place", Bis sa'ani is a 35-room ancestral Puebloan great house and archeological site located 8 miles from Pueblo Bonito.

The Road to Chaco

All the road needs is routine maintenance.

Save Chaco

We don't need more fossil fuels


Contact Information

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Anson Wright

Coordinator of the Chaco Alliance since 2006


+1 (503) 709-0038