AP

Oil drilling plan near Utah monument draws tribal opposition

Sep 10, 2019, 7:20 AM
This June 20, 2017, photo provided by Chris Wonderly shows Hovenweep Castle at Hovenweep National M...
This June 20, 2017, photo provided by Chris Wonderly shows Hovenweep Castle at Hovenweep National Monument on the Colorado-Utah border. 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. (Chris Wonderly/National Park Service, via AP)
(Chris Wonderly/National Park Service, via AP)

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.

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 de-stabilizing 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 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.

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.

As of Monday afternoon, Finch said there were no results to share and the sale would continue until at least Tuesday.

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.

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 travelling 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

A female bison and calf are seen near the Yellowstone River in Wyoming's Hayden Valley, on Wednesda...
Mark Jones

2nd visitor in 3 days gored by Yellowstone National Park bison

In less than a week, two visitors to Yellowstone National Park have been gored by bison. Park officials say to stay at least 25 yards away from a bison.
2 days ago
Travelers wait in for a TSA security check at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles,...
DAVID KOENIG ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pre-pandemic sized crowds descend on US airports for holiday

TSA is reporting crowds of pre-pandemic size are traveling this Independence Day.
2 days ago
Residents stand in front of building destroyed by missiles in Ukraine...
FRANCESCA EBEL Associated Press

Russian missiles kill at least 19 in Ukraine’s Odesa region

The Ukrainian president's office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and a campsite.
2 days ago
Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the oath for the Supreme Court....
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Jackson sworn in, becomes 1st Black woman on Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court's 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires.
3 days ago
The Supreme Court is pictured. The court just limited the EPA...
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

The Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation's main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
3 days ago
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, ...
DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press

Biden says transatlantic alliance has adapted to new threats

Biden's comments came at a press conference in Madrid at the conclusion of the annual meeting of NATO leaders and after he attended a summit with the Group of Seven advanced democratic economies in the Bavarian Alps.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
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.
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.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Oil drilling plan near Utah monument draws tribal opposition