"I believe, as President Obama does, that we need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way."
Those are the words of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar given yesterday in a statement that was heard around the preservation world.
In what will likely be the first of many high-profile reversals of the Bush administration's approach to energy exploration, the government is scrapping the issuance of 77 lease parcels on federal land for oil and gas drilling in Utah's red rock country. The announcement is a major win for Nine Mile Canyon and the thousands of Native American rock art images that cover the canyon’s wall.
"In the last weeks in office, the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases near some of our nation's most precious landscapes in Utah," Salazar said. "We will take time and a fresh look at these 77 parcels to see if they are appropriate for oil and gas development."
Since December 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been a voice in a coalition of conservation and preservation organizations fighting leases - which are valued at $6 million - on more than 110,000 acres of Utah public land. On January 17, the group received its first major victory in the new year when Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court granted a temporary restraining order preventing the Bureau of Land Management from moving forward with the leases.
Nine Mile Canyon contains the nation's greatest density of ancient rock art, which is threatened by clouds of dust and corrosive chemicals created by the heavy industrial truck traffic associated with oil and gas development.
"Secretary Salazar’s decision sends a strong message about the Obama administration’s approach to preserving America’s public lands," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a press release put out yesterday by the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Today’s action ensures that the damage being inflicted on cultural resources near Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon - often called the ‘world’s longest art gallery’ because of the density of ancient rock art panels there - will not be exacerbated by additional oil and gas leases. This is a great decision, and indicates that Secretary Salazar and President Obama take very seriously their responsibility as stewards of our public lands."