Utah Drilling Threatens Rock Art, Groups Say

     SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – The Bureau of Land Management improperly authorized natural gas drilling and operations in a Utah canyon containing Native American cliff dwellings and rock art, conservation groups claim in Federal Court.

     The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and two other groups sued the bureau along with the U.S. Department of the Interior and its Price, Utah, field office manager for granting a license to Bill Barrett Corporation to explore and extract gas from Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon region. The corporation hopes to dig more than 800 wells, the lawsuit claims.
     The bureau approved 25 well sites based on statutory categorical exclusions that make permit approval easier for sites where drilling operations began within the past five years, according to the complaint. The groups accuse the bureau of issuing permits without providing for public comment or performing environmental analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act or surveying the wells’ impact on cultural resources, which include Native American dwellings, relics and rock art, under the National Historic Preservation Act. The area is protected Hopi Tribe property.
     The groups claim that dust kicked up from trucks on the canyon’s dirt roads is damaging rock art panels.
On its Web site, the bureau states that Nine Mile Canyon contains “the greatest concentration of rock art” in the United States, more than 1,000 sites. The area is being considered for a National Historic District.

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