AP

Drilling plan near Hovenweep National Monument draws tribal opposition

Sep 9, 2019, 11:01 AM
Hovenweep National Monument...
The Hovenweep Castle ruin is perched on a cliff at the end of a canyon in the Hovenweep National Monument. Hovenweep is located in Utah and Colorado. Photo: Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The U.S. government will allow oil and gas companies to make lease bids Monday on lands considered archaeologically sensitive near a national monument stretching across the Utah-Colorado border that houses sacred tribal sites.

Included in the Bureau of Land Management’s September oil and gas lease sale is about 47 square miles (122 square kilometers) of land north of Hovenweep National Monument, a group of prehistoric villages overlooking a canyon with connections to several indigenous tribes throughout the U.S. Southwest. The parcels for lease are about five to 20 miles (eight to 32 kilometers) north of the monument.

The sale comes amid an ongoing debate over drilling in states like Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, where a coalition of tribes are calling for a halt on energy development near land that Native Americans consider sacred.

Oil and gas drilling leases and tribal lands

The Trump administration has pushed to open vast expanses of public lands to oil and gas drilling, speed up the construction of petroleum pipelines and ease federal environmental regulations, dismissing calls from scientists in and out of government that immediate cuts in oil, gas and coal emissions are required to stave off the worst of climate change.

The plan was met with criticism from environmentalists and tribal organizations, who argued drilling on the high desert would damage the prehistoric structures and pollute the air.

“When this oil and gas leasing happens on or near sacred lands, it risks destabilizing the bedrock (of the structures),” said Ahjani Yepa, a member of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a Navajo grass-roots organization. “Hovenweep is in all of our stories, and to threaten the integrity of these structures jeopardizes everything we’ve carried forward as resilient people.”

Environmentalists and local business owners have also expressed concern over the impacts on water resources in rural communities and tourism from outdoor recreation that helps local economies.

Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2014 by the International Dark-Sky Association, recognized for its striking night skies and star-gazing opportunities. Southeast Utah is known for its sweeping desert landscapes and expansive night skies. The state has 11 internationally recognized “Dark Sky Parks,” the most of any state.

Business owners in Bluff said the dark skies drive tourism to Hovenweep, and feared industrial light pollution, as well as the sounds and smells of energy development, could drive visitors away.

Kathleen Sgamma of the oil industry trade group Western Energy Alliance countered that the plans are far from the boundaries of the monument.

“They’re making sure companies are operating in a responsible way while meeting the call from Congress to expand oil and gas development,” she said.

Responsible management?

Kimberly Finch, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman, said every lease includes a cultural resource protection requirement that allows the agency to modify plans if impacts to cultural resources can’t be avoided or minimized.

The agency says in planning documents that companies should take steps to protect the environmental and cultural landscape of the area, including limiting the use of artificial light at drilling sites and protecting useable groundwater aquifers from drilling. Companies must obtain permits and go through environmental reviews before they begin construction or drilling. Some leases go years before drilling or expire before any activity occurs.

Still, environmentalists and Native Americans invested in the land said such documents fail to address a larger trend of leasing increasingly more land on or near sensitive tribal landscapes. Parcels near Hovenweep were offered, then deferred, in a March BLM lease sale, and new documents for an upcoming December lease sale show more land will be up for grabs.

Looking ahead

Juana Charlie, a member of the Pueblo of Acoma, said it’s been difficult to negotiate with the BLM on cultural protections.

“At least we have our little foot in the door, but that’s as far as we’ve gotten,” she said. “They argue these lands are abandoned, but they’re not, we use them in our prayers, we visit them. You wouldn’t like it if I went into your home, your land, and started digging.”

The Bureau of Land Management would benefit from more community outreach and long-term planning to lease parcels on sensitive landscapes, said Erika Pollard, an associate director with the National Parks Conservation Association. But the new “energy-dominated era” she said we’re in has made public input on these processes harder.

“When you drive by Hovenweep, it feels like you’re traveling back in time. Having that landscape dotted with oil rigs and factories changes everything,” she said. “We have to think, ‘what legacy do we want to leave in Utah?'”

Today’s Top Stories

AP

TikTok shown on a phone. TikTok is proving influential in poliitics...
DAVID KLEPPER Associated Press

TikTok politics: Candidates turn to it ‘for better or worse’

TikTok isn't just about viral dance challenges anymore, but also a place to shop, learn about beauty, fashion or even politics.
3 days ago
Damage from Hurricane Ian...
ADRIANA GOMEZ-LICON Associated Press

Ian returns to hurricane status, meanwhile floods trap many in Florida

Hours after weakening to a tropical depression while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained hurricane strength Thursday evening after emerging over the Atlantic Ocean.
4 days ago
An uprooted tree, toppled by strong winds from the outer bands of Hurricane Ian, rests in a parking...
CURT ANDERSON Associated Press

Ian makes landfall in southwest Florida as Category 4 storm

About 2.5 million people had been ordered to evacuate the area before the storm hit the coast on Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (241 kph).
5 days ago
The White House to ask for less money to fund border wall...
ACACIA CORONADO and GISELA SALOMON Associated Press

Increase in Venezuelan migration is felt across US

Last month, Venezuelans surpassed Guatemalans and Hondurans to become the second-largest nationality stopped at the U.S. border after Mexicans.
7 days ago
In Iran, protests have led to violent clashes between citizens and security forces. Protesters pict...
The Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

The scope of Iran's ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, still remains unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities.
10 days ago
U.S. Capitol pictured. The House just voted on an election law...
MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

House passes election law overhaul in response to Jan. 6

The bill, which is similar to bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate, would overhaul an arcane 1800s-era statute known as the Electoral Count Act
11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Drilling plan near Hovenweep National Monument draws tribal opposition