Fracking and COVID-19 Threaten Navajo and Pueblo People in New Mexico

By Ayana Byrd Jun 16, 2020

For hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, Navajo and Pueblo people have lived on lands in northwestern New Mexico. And now, according to The Guardian, a combination of fracking and a rising COVID-19 death toll poses a massive threat to these tribes.

Through a plan called the Mancos-Gallup Amendment, the United States Bureau of Land Management is preparing to allow leases on 3,000 new wells in the region, with The Guardian reporting many would be used for fracking oil and gas: 

The plan would expand drilling into some of northern New Mexico’s last available public lands, threatening the desecration of sacred Native artefacts near Chaco Canyon while bringing in a swath of new public health risks to a place that’s already reeling from one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. 

As Colorlines has previously reported, fracking can lead to an increase in air pollution. A recent study by Harvard University asserts that those living in areas with higher levels of air pollution have a significantly higher chance of dying from COVID-19. Already, writes The Guardian, “the Navajo Nation and surrounding areas have some of the highest per-capita infection rates in the world.” 

Beyond the health risks that come with the Mancos-Gallup Amendment, there is also a strong likelihood that increased fracking would destroy ancient Indigenous artifacts found in the Chaco Culture national historical park, an archaeological site of spiritual importance to Navajo and Puebloan people in the region.

“To a non-indigenous person, they [are] ruins. But to an indigenous Pueblo person, they’re still active sites that are used in spiritual ways,” Julia Bernal, the environmental justice director at the Pueblo Action Alliance, told The Guardian. “The fight has constantly been, ‘These are sacred sites.’ But the non-Indigenous power is like, ‘Well prove to us these are sacred sites.’ How can we prove that when it’s our beliefs?”

Environmentalists and Indigenous activists in New Mexico see the new plan as indicative of the Trump administration’s decision to allow energy companies to destroy sacred lands. Says Sam Sage, the administrator at Navajo government center Counselor Chapter House: “They’re gonna kill us for their own greed.”