mining/drilling sacred lands


oil and gas drilling leases increased for sacred lands

brenda norrell, indian country today

sept 14 2004

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sacred lands in the West became further endangered as the Bush administration pressed for approval of a record number of new oil and gas drilling permits, targeting unspoiled pristine wilderness, including the Rocky Mountain region.

The Environmental Working Group, a consumer watchdog group, released a comprehensive report of oil and gas leases in the West, showing many
American Indian sacred places have been targeted.

Other areas in Indian country have never been reclaimed from previous drilling and mining, which have left trails of uranium tailings, scarred lands, tainted waterways and foul air.

After taking office, the Bush administration developed a task force to facilitate industry requests and fast track requests for oil and gas
drilling. Now, the Bureau of Land Management has increased drilling permits by 70 percent since the Clinton administration.

Navajo President Joe Shirley, in a letter to the Bureau of Land Management, urged the agency to halt oil and gas drilling near the Navajo place of origin and sacred mountains.

“Because of their significance to Din life, any desecration through oil and gas drilling on or near the two mountains will have a devastating effect on Navajo beliefs,” Shirley said.

The Environmental Working Group’s new report shows the federal government has offered 27.9 million acres of public and private land in New Mexico for oil and gas drilling. New Mexico ranks second among 12 western states for lands currently leased and second for the amount of land currently producing oil and gas.

San Juan County, the Din place of origin, is among the top three counties targeted, along with Eddy and Lea counties, according to the new national report.

Navajos living in nearby San Juan County in southeastern Utah have long protested the saturation of oil and gas wells around their homes. Navajo Councilman Mark Maryboy of Aneth, Utah, and other Utah Navajos have long argued that the Navajo Nation returns little profit to Navajos living in desperate conditions in the Utah portion of tribal land.

Utah Navajo allegations of corruption within the U.S. Interior gained support from an Interior whistleblower in 2003.

Kevin Gambrell, head of the Farmington, N.M. Indian Minerals Office since 1996, entered complaints for six years that Navajo landowners were not receiving fair compensation for the use of their land.

After receiving no response, he contacted Alan Balaran, an investigator appointed by the federal judge presiding in the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit, alleging billions in missing dollars for Indian land use and minerals.

Balaran’s report said private landowners near the Navajo Nation were paid up to 20 times what Navajos were paid for leases.

Gambrell was fired after reporting that Navajos, many of whom do not speak English, were given blank leases to sign by oil and gas companies to build pipelines across tribal land. Navajo leaders were told the companies would
fill in the lease rates later. Gambrell said it resulted in the loss of millions of dollars for Navajos.

The Interior Department did not respond to the allegations of collusion with energy corporations and the federal lawsuit, Cobell. v. Norton, is ongoing.

Pristine land in the Four Corners region, however, is not the only land targeted for new oil and gas drilling. Energy companies are vying for oil and gas leases in the most pristine regions of the Rocky Mountains, where bears, wolves and elk attract travelers. In Wyoming, herds of pronghorn antelope are on the run from oil and gas development.

In Montana, oil and gas leases threaten Badger-Two Medicine, sacred ground of the Blackfeet. In Colorado, 1,000-year-old petroglyphs are threatened in Vermillion Basin. In Utah, oil and gas leases have been issued for Book Cliffs, Desolation Canyon and Fisher Towers, with ancient burial grounds.

Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin are also targeted. The 14 million acres are surrounded by the Bighorn Mountains in the West, the Black Hills in the east, Montana’s Cedar Ridge in the north, and Wyoming’s Laramie Mountains, Casper arch and Hartville Uplift in the South.

Since 1997, the Basin has also been the site of intensive coal bed methane production and has recently become the most active area in the country for gas development.

The Environmental Working Group pointed out campaign dollars play a role. Between 2000 and 2004, the oil and gas industry poured more than $ 75 million into political campaigns, with 79 percent going to Republicans.

Further, it said the corporate spoilage of land is doing little to satisfy the nation’s need for energy.

“Despite access to more than 200 million acres of public land over the past 15 years (1989 2003), the oil and gas industry has produced enough energy from this land to satisfy only 53 days of U.S. oil consumption and 221 days of natural gas consumption,” according to EWG’s analysis of well-by-well oil and gas production records obtained Aug. 16 via a Freedom of Information Act

The report states that drilling on federal lands in the West has done nothing to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy. In fact, since 1982, the U.S. dependence on foreign oil has doubled and dependence on foreign natural gas has tripled.


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