The time is not now

The United States has become the world’s leading producer of petroleum, beating even Saudi Arabia. That means we can be somewhat choosy about where we drill for oil.

Two key conflicts exist in that regard. One, of course, is protection of the environment, including natural treasures that, once devastated, can never be replaced.

Another is cultural, and it often involves Native Americans and lands they consider sacred.

One of those is the Chaco Canyon region of New Mexico.

Much of the land in Western states is owned by the federal government and handled by the Bureau of Land Management. For many years, the BLM recognized a 10-mile buffer zone around Chaco Canyon, refusing to allow private energy companies to drill wells there. Last year, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke halted a proposal to lease land in that area for drilling. He cited cultural concerns.

But now, the BLM is considering sale of leases on about 50 parcels of land in New Mexico and Oklahoma. One of the properties is near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. That has upset some Native American leaders.

The relatively flat, treeless landscape of some areas in the West is attractive to oil, gas and coal companies for obvious reasons. Cheaper drilling costs mean higher profits.

There may come a time when we Americans are so desperate for oil that we have to drill wherever there is a possibility it may be found.

That time is not now.

BLM officials should remove the Chaco Canyon-area lease from their list.