11 September 2004
– Sacred lands of the West became further endangered
as the Bush administration pressed for approval of a
record number of new oil and gas drilling permits in the
West, targeting unspoiled pristine wildernesses,
including the Rocky Mountain region.
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.
sites, never been reclaimed from mining, already have
trails of uranium tailings, scarred lands, tainted
waterways and foul air.
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.
Katenay, Navajo from Big Mountain, Ariz., said oil and
gas drilling is violating Navajos’ most sacred region,
the Dine’ place of origin and place of the Creation
legend, near present day Bloomfield, N.M.
reserves are drilled in places where White Shell Woman
was found by Talking God and places where she did her
Kinalda (puberty ceremony).
where the Twin Warrior Gods made their divine deeds are
also desecrated with drilling, piping, wells and
recreation activities. The Dine’ have lost these lands
and their ‘puppet’ tribal government have refused to
fight for a claim to this area,” Katenay said.
point out that sacred land is being violated while many
Navajos haul propane tanks in the backs of their trucks
for fuel to cook with. “What would the Christians do
if their Holy Lands were dotted with natural gas pumping
stations and strands of pipelines crisscrossed
everywhere?” Katenay asked.
to make things worst, what if these gas reserves were
illegally tapped with permission from a puppet
government that is made up of their own people. Finally,
how would they feel if these natural resources were
being bought off cheap from their nation, exported away
to another country and none made available for their
the Dine', this has happened when our Holy Lands were
made available to gas companies in northwestern New
Mexico in a region known to us as Dinetah.
several major gas pipelines are routed out towards
southern California. Many Dine’ of course have to pay
for the natural gas or propane from companies that
desecrate their Holy Lands. Many Dine' household do not
receive piping so they haul their propane bottles to the
local markets to get them filled.”
said the place of Dine’ origin, Dinetah in
northwestern New Mexico, still holds ancient
archaeological sites and a large portion of the creation
stories related to all geographical features of that
area. Energy development threatens the Navajos’ Four
Sacred Mountains, located in the region from Flagstaff,
Ariz., southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, he
travel from Black Mesa to these areas when I can. I am
disturbed every time I come back to my Holy Land. I see
new drilling and new roads that scar the wooded mesas
and buttes. I always wonder if the Spirits of our
Creators are still alive there. Despite this, I still
get a sense of healing when I look upon Gobernador Knob
or Huerfano Mesa and its surrounding canyonlands.
I am also saddened when I think that, because these
lands were given away for profit, the rest of our sacred
lands everywhere are< being desecrated, today: Mount
Taylor, San Francisco Mountains, and Big Mountain.”
President Joe Shirley, in a letter to the Bureau of Land
Management, urged the agency to halt oil and gas
drilling in the Four Corners region near the Navajo
place of origin.
of their significance to Diné life, any desecration
through oil and gas drilling on or near the two
mountains will have a devastating effect on Navajo
beliefs,” Shirley said.
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.
Juan County, the Dine’ place of origin, is among the
top three counties targeted, along with Eddy and Lea
counties, according to the new report.
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
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.
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 land use and minerals.
report said private landowners near the Navajo Nation
were paid up to 20 times what Navajos were paid for
was fired after reporting that Navajos, many of whom do
not speak English, were given blank leases to sign by
oil and gas companies. These were leases 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.
Interior Department did not respond to the allegations
of collusion with energy corporations and the federal
lawsuit, Cobell. v. Norton, is ongoing.
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
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.
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
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.
Environmental Working Group points 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.
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 August 16 2004 via a Freedom of Information Act
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.