Joe Biden says he wants to bar new drilling around one of the country’s most important archeological sites

Former vice-president Joe Biden says he wants to bar new drilling around one of the country’s most important archeological sites

Joe Biden says he wants to bar new drilling around one of the country’s most important archeological sites

Former vice-president Joe Biden said on Thursday he has agreed to a New Mexico plan that will forbid new drilling around one of the country’s most important archeological sites, while still letting oil and gas development continue as far as the mouth of the Rio Grande.

Biden said he supports President Donald Trump’s initiative to rescind the Obama-era drilling ban in the central basin of the New Mexico desert that protected Chaco Canyon, a massive round-the-clock human settlement where ceramic and stone tools are found alongside pictographs, animal bones and fossilized plants, as well as lost civilizations and European trading routes.

In a written statement, Biden said the agreement “will protect millions of acres of public lands, including Chaco, while allowing responsible drilling, mining and other energy development in the basin, as long as it doesn’t impact visitors, Native American cultural sites, or other important areas”.

He and the BLM said a formal memorandum of understanding on the terms of the proposal was reached earlier this week.

The federal government owns about 95% of the land in the basin and has long allowed oil and gas development in its northern section. That development and the 2015 drilling ban, an expansion of a 2009 order, have damaged sites and fields, which are unmoored from the traditional landscape that Chaco Canyon occupies.

“Drilling restrictions over the top of Chaco have caused irreparable damage to delicate archaeological sites there and harmed the very ecosystem that is important to both the Chaco and Albuqueruq culture,” New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, said in a statement.

An interagency team and officials from several tribes and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, spent two years developing the draft Chaco Canyon document, which is an “overarching document that sets the rules for federal, state and tribal management of the New Mexico desert region”.

“It guides a range of activities in cooperation with tribes,” the BLM said in a statement. “The plan aligns well with the Great Basin National Park Master Plan, an interagency collaboration that was updated three years ago to guide management of a 1.2m acre park.”

Thursday’s announcement doesn’t go as far as a draft agreement released last July. That agreement calls for five to six-fold mitigation, including funds for drilling-related energy development, research and preservation. It allows future development of new public lands in the basin, but only as far as Chaco Canyon itself, and limits any new oil and gas activity to areas away from wells.

Trump pledged to reverse the ban on 2,600 sq miles (7,000 sq km) of federal land in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, where 11,000 new jobs would be created. A final decision on the move is expected after a 60-day public comment period ends on 13 April.

The Trump administration estimates the energy bounty of the four-state region at more than $9bn annually, including $1.6bn in royalties.

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