Santa Fe New Mexican, "Future of Chaco in question as oil and gas close in."

A thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico was the center of a thriving culture. Massive multistory buildings called great houses rose against a dramatic high desert landscape of mountains and mesas. Chaco was the ceremonial and economic center of the San Juan Basin with some 400 miles of prehistoric roads linking it to other great houses in the region.

In some ways, it still looks like it did centuries ago.

“Right now, you can stand at Pueblo Alto, look north and see a landscape that is substantially the same as what the Chacoans saw,” said Barbara West, former superintendent of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

But that could be changing.

Chaco, a World Heritage Site, is surrounded by one of the most productive oil and gas basins in the United States. In 2012, San Juan County ranked No. 1 in natural gas production and fifth in oil production in the state. And now new drilling technology is making the region, once thought to be played out, attractive to oil and gas companies. Thousands of new wells are possible, some close to land that is sacred to Navajos and Pueblo Indians of Northern New Mexico.