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

Irene Cara in 'Fame' (Photo courtesy of Mgm/Kobal, Shutterstock)...
MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ singer-actor Irene Cara dies at 63

singer-actress Irene Cara, who starred and sang the title cut from the 1980 hit movie “Fame” and then belted out the era-defining hit “Flashdance ... What a Feeling” from 1983's “Flashdance,” has died. She was 63.
2 days ago
The U.S. Coast Guard ship Bernard C. Webber, leaves the coast guard base, Monday, July 19, 2021, in...
Associated Press

‘Miracle’: Missing cruise ship passenger found OK in water

The U.S. Coast Guard says a passenger who went overboard from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued on Thanksgiving after likely being in the water for hours.
3 days ago
FILE - A Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. (AP P...
The Associated Press

Montana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

A Montana man will spend three years in federal prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S Capitol.
4 days ago
Debbie, left, and Chet Barnett place flowers at a memorial outside of the Chesapeake, Va., Walmart ...
The Associated Press

Walmart shooter left ‘death note,’ bought gun day of killing

According to authorities in Virginia, the Walmart shooter bought his gun just hours prior to killing six employees.
4 days ago
Dry lakebed...
Kira Hoffelmeyer

Lawsuit looms over tiny fish in drought-stricken West

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists have notified U.S. wildlife officials that they will sue over delayed decisions related to protections for two rare fish species that are threatened by groundwater pumping in the drought-stricken West. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service last week […]
6 days ago
Hand-written messages cover the heart attached to the cross to honor a victim of the mass shooting ...
COLLEEN SLEVIN, THOMAS PEIPERT, JESSE BEDAYN and BRITTANY PETERSON

Colorado gay club shooting suspect held without bail

The alleged shooter facing possible hate crime charges in the fatal shooting of five people at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub was ordered held without bail in an initial court appearance Wednesday.
6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
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.
Oil drilling plan near Utah monument draws tribal opposition