Late last week, media reports revealed a plan by the Bureau of Land Management to sell oil and gas leases in areas of Utah that contain some the nation’s most significant cultural resources, including ancient rock art in the Nine Mile Canyon region. The reports suggested that these potential sales are being conducted with unusual haste in an effort to complete the sales before the administration changes in January of 2009.
While fully detailed maps of the affected areas are not yet available, we have managed to get some additional information on the specific parcels that would be affected. Unfortunately, it looks like they include thousands of acres within Nine Mile Canyon, which many people call the "World’s Longest Art Gallery."
Specifically, the sale contains at least 21 parcels totaling approx. 36,000 acres that are either partially or entirely within the Nine Mile Canyon Area of Critical Environmental Concern (which covers a total of 70,368 acres). Although BLM will sell the leases with No Surface Occupancy (NSO) stipulations - which generally prohibit the lessees from constructing wells, pipelines and other types of oil and gas infrastructure within the boundaries of the leases - BLM will not prohibit or restrain the lessees from using Nine Mile Canyon and its principal side canyons to access project areas on the West Tavaputs Plateau.
So, if issued, the leases will in all probability increase industrial traffic levels in the canyon. This is bad news. As those who have followed this issue know, it is the dust kicked up by heavy truck traffic through the Canyon that is causing damage to the rock art (also harmful are the chemical suppressants that ameliorate some of the dust, but also contribute to the degradation of the rock art).
We will continue to monitor the situation closely, but from what we’ve learned thus far, the BLM’s proposal would further increase truck traffic through the Canyon and dramatically exacerbate the damage to thousands of irreplaceable cultural artifacts.
-- Ti Hays & Virgil McDill
Ti Hays is the Public Lands Counsel and Virgil McDill is the Communications Manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.