August 2016

Newsbites – August 2016

Chaco Canyon Fracking Leases Postponed

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has postponed an oil and gas lease sale on San Juan Basin land near Chaco Canyon until Jan. 18, 2017.

Approximately 843 acres, 15 miles from the ruins of an 11th-century ceremonial great house—a three-story building that encloses a plaza and four kivas and is surrounded by 14 buried kivas and a great kiva—have been proposed as drilling sites. Three parcels near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site, had been slated to be sold at the BLM’s October 2016 lease sale but were withdrawn to allow analysis related to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and for consultation with the 22 pueblos in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, Hopi and Jicarilla Apache. The tribes consider the area “culturally sensitive,” or sacred.

Rebecca Sobel, climate and energy senior campaigner for Wild Earth Guardians, a conservation group, said, “This is the first time that tribal consultation has been used as a reason for a postponement.”

In 2015, the Western Environmental Law Center filed suit against two federal agencies on behalf of the Navajo organization Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (DinéCARE) in an attempt to prevent horizontal fracking around Chaco Canyon. In March 2016, the law center’s attorneys were in federal court in Denver arguing their case. Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, said in a statement about the litigation, “If we win, it’ll create space for a dialogue about keeping fossil fuels in the ground and investing in a just transition of the region toward clean energy.”

The Navajo Nation’s First Utility-Scale Solar Plant

Three hundred acres in Kayenta, Arizona, have begun to host an array of photovoltaic panels that will constitute the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority’s first utility-scale solar plant. It will be capable of powering about 7,700 homes. The $64 million 27-megawatt (MW) plant, funded by federal loans and tax credits, will be completed by the end of 2016.

By buying some of the electricity the project will generate, the Salt River Project, a major utility in the Phoenix area, will get credits toward meeting its mandated goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from sustainable sources by 2020. The Salt River Project also has a two-year agreement with the tribal utility to buy power from a natural gas plant in which the tribe invests.

The project has broad support from the Kayenta community, one of the few places with a large population of Navajos. The tribe was traditionally a loose confederation of semi-nomadic clans, and many Navajos today live in more isolated desert areas. The Kayenta site also has access to an electrical substation and transmission lines that can carry power to homes in the region.

The Navajo Nation has never before generated any of its own electricity, except for a few small solar facilities. The tribal utility reportedly spent $30 million on electricity in 2014.


Gold King Mine Spill Update

In August 2015, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contractor breached a retaining bulwark of the Gold King Mine in Colorado that held back acidic wastewater. A 3-million-gallon torrent was released into the Animas River, which joins the San Juan River and runs through Navajo farms and ranchlands in New Mexico. The contaminated water included mercury, lead and arsenic.

The catastrophe has devastated farmers and ranchers economically, culturally and spiritually. Cleanup, studies and lawsuits are underway but the extent of damage to the life of the river, the ecosystems and the residents’ means of livelihood remains unknown.

Due to the spill, the Hogback Canal, which delivers San Juan River water to Shiprock, Tsé Daa K’aan (Hogback) and Gadii’ahi-Tokoi chapters, was closed until April 2016. In July, representatives of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Navajo leaders to evaluate emergency water supplies and develop resources and contingency plans for Navajo farms in case the river is temporarily deemed unfit for irrigation.

In another water emergency, on May 13, a decades-old concrete pipe that supplies water from the San Juan to the largest farm on the Navajo Nation failed, depriving most crops of water. Repairs were completed a month later. The 72,000-acre farm grows alfalfa, corn, small grains, potatoes and beans, employing 200-500 people. It is managed by Navajo Agricultural Products Industry.

Facebook Considering New Mexico for Green Data Center

Last month, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) submitted an application to the state Public Regulation Commission (PRC) seeking approval of a plan to provide 60 (and possibly more than 100) megawatts of solar power to a possible Facebook data center in New Mexico. The technology giant wants a guarantee that the facility can be 100 percent powered by solar or wind energy and seeks to have it online by mid-2017. Facebook has agreed to cover the costs of building a new renewable-energy facility and electric line to power the center, which would rely on traditional energy sources as a backup.

According to PNM’s filing, the first phase of development would require a $250-million investment, and the project has the potential to reach six phases. The filing also says that the massive data center could bring more than 200 construction jobs, would have 30 to 50 employees during the startup period and would create other economic development opportunities.

The center could be sited in Los Lunas. In June Los Lunas Village Council approved up to $30 billion in industrial revenue bonds for a data center. Facebook is also considering locating the center in Utah.

A public hearing on the project before the PRC scheduled for Aug. 9 was triggered by a public comment sent to the commission by Albuquerque resident Hubert Allen. Allen has solar power on his home that is net-metered by PNM. He wants the commission to consider whether Facebook’s center could be a marketplace for excess power generated by homeowners—as opposed to homeowners giving it to PNM without compensation. Smaller solar companies have also expressed concerns that they won’t be given an opportunity to compete for the project.


New Mexico Eco-Tech Inventor Wins Patent Approval

Waste Glass and Geo-Mimicry Stop Jet Planes

 Ecopreneur Andrew Ungerleider has been awarded a U.S. patent for the invention of a non-flammable, energy-absorbing material that, when placed at the end of an airport runway, can help bring an out-of-control jet to a quick, safe halt, potentially saving lives. A third of all airplane runway accidents are the result of planes that overshoot runways upon landing.

 Ungerleider, a graduate of the College of Santa Fe, is the founder of the Santa Fe-based Earthstone International and its sister company, Growstone, Inc., which manufacture abrasive cleaning products and agricultural soil amendments using recycled glass from landfills. The products are sold in major retail outlets across the country and online.

 The same green technology utilizing waste glass is used to manufacture the runway arrestor system’s foamed silica bed. The “geomimicry” process inside a large kiln mimics how nature creates abrasive materials from volcanic lava.

 The Federal Aviation Administration has recognized this solution. In 2015 the FAA issued a compliance order for all U.S. airports that don’t have the required amount of clearance to install arresting systems at the end of runways.


Notah Begay Foundation to Introduce NB3FIT Day Nov. 13

The Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation will introduce NB3FIT Day on Nov. 13 as a platform of heart-pumping fun and fundraising. The goal is to actively engage 10,000 Native American youth for one hour. More than 25 community organizers have coordinated ways for youth to participate in a tournament, run, hike, bike-ride or play lacrosse. In the Albuquerque area, NB3 Foundation will host an 8k cross-country run, as well as a one-mile fun-run and walk at the Santa Ana Golf Course.

According to the Indian Health Service, 45 percent of 2-to-5-year-olds are obese. Half of Native youth born after 2000 are expected to develop type 2 diabetes. These children are also at risk for cardiovascular disease.

In 2005, former PGA golfer, Notah Begay III (Navajo, San Felipe, Isleta), along with his father and brother, started the foundation—the mission of which is to reduce the rate of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes in Native children—by providing golf lessons. This showed them how sports can be used as a tool to teach ethics and get kids moving. Then, using golf and soccer, they built the NB3FIT and Native Strong programs, working with youth, coaches and mentors to instill leadership skills, cultural values and healthy living habits. The program partners with Native-led nonprofits and tribes. The foundation now provides support for 22 organizations across the Southwest and has invested over $2.3 million in 59 communities across the country, impacting more than 25,000 children.

During 2012-13, Johns Hopkins University evaluated NB3 Foundation’s work at San Felipe Pueblo and noted a statistically significant decline in average body mass index (BMI), as well as improvements in self-esteem, peer leadership and knowledge about nutrition and healthy choices.

The foundation also presents a spring health education conference, golf tournaments and an end-of-the-year fundraising gala. For more information, call 505.867.0775 or visit

4th Annual Resilience Run Pays Tribute to Pueblo Revolt 

The annual Resilience Run takes place on Aug. 6, starting at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. It commemorates the runners who risked their lives to carry secret messages between Pueblo communities in 1680, enabling them to rise up as one and overthrow foreign occupiers. Some runners carry knotted yucca cords during the run to demonstrate pride in their heritage and a connection to the uprising.

“The Pueblo Revolt is a reminder of how Pueblo people came together despite distance to take action, to protect their way of life and sustain their very existence,” says IPCC Museum Director Monique Fragua (Jemez Pueblo). “Marking its anniversary reminds us that we have the courage to overcome obstacles, the strength needed to continue our way of life and the determination to teach our belief systems to our children.”  

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was North America’s first successful uprising against colonial oppression. To coordinate far-flung communities, the religious leader Popé sent runners with yucca cords whose knots secretly indicated the date of the planned uprising. The Spanish captured and tortured two of the runners, revealing the plan, but more runners quickly alerted the pueblos and they rebelled two days early on Aug. 10. The Spanish retreated to El Paso, freeing Pueblo people to practice their traditions, language and religion on their own land once again.

Pueblo Revolt commemoration runs also take place at some pueblos such as Jemez (Aug. 20) and Tesuque. For details on the IPCC run, see the calendar listing on page 46.


Archaeological Conservancy Fundraising to Acquire Chaco Outlier Site 

The Archaeological Conservancy is raising funds to acquire the Holmes Group archaeological site, a significant Chaco Outlier community, in order to protect it for posterity. The site northwest of Farmington, New Mexico, is considered to be one of the largest and most complex of all the Chaco Period occupation sites. The conservancy is crowdfunding through Generosity by Indiegogo, the online non-profit fundraising platform. Its goal is to raise $25,000.

A 1984 archaeological survey identified two Great Houses, two possible Great Kivas, two cobble masonry bi-wall structures and an impressive “circular road” or “enhanced areola,” a 1,000-foot-diameter earthwork circle enclosing the center of the community. With a total of 127 surface features and structures, the Holmes Group is considered to be the most intact of all the major La Plata Valley Chaco Period occupation sites. Without protection, the site will continue to be in danger of being looted, and irreplaceable cultural material will be destroyed, according to the conservancy. The site is also in the midst of a region of ongoing oil and gas development and under constant threat of new development.

Jim Walker, the conservancy’s Southwest Regional director, stated, “Although our understanding of the complex Chaco system has expanded greatly in the last 40 years, significant questions remain. Establishing the Holmes Group as a permanent archaeological preserve could help researchers answer some of those questions.”

For more information, contact Walker at 505.266.1540 or Donations can be made at



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Articles