Communities in the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico have been subjected to worsening air quality caused by oil and gas development in the region. That exposure has possibly increased the risk COVID-19 poses to Navajo families living amidst oil and gas development, according to a Harvard study.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has spread quickly through the Navajo Nation since the first cases were reported in mid-March. As of April 14, the Nation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, reported 838 cases. Of those, 284 cases are in New Mexico. “We are concerned, we’re really concerned,” said Teresa Seamster, Counselor Chapter Health Committee member.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The federal government is proceeding with plans for a December auction of oil and gas drilling leases on thousands of acres of land in the Greater Chaco region. A comment period on the proposal opened today and will continue through October 31, despite a pending Senate bill that would protect the area, and without a cultural review and consultation promised by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Miya King-Flaherty, organizer with the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said the government is violating its own procedures by not having a resource management plan in place. “They’re not following their own rules,” King-Flaherty said; “they’re really just rubber-stamping these drilling permits while not giving the thorough analysis that they are mandated to do.” New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have introduced legislation to protect the greater Chaco region.
With all the big oil and gas news over the last few weeks, it might be hard to keep track of the different rules, agencies, court rulings and studies—and what they mean for New Mexico. Last week, U.S. District Judge James “Jeb” Boasberg ruled that the federal government’s environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline was insufficient. The ruling came after the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River tribes sued the federal government, arguing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t complied with the National Environmental Policy Act when it greenlighted plans to build the oil pipeline under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River. In his opinion, Boasberg wrote that the court agrees that the federal government didn’t adequately consider how an oil spill would affect fishing rights, hunting rights or environmental justice issues. It’s not clear, however, if the company must cease operations while the Corps of Engineers reconsiders certain sections of its environmental analysis.