Public Overwhelms Interior Dept. With Opposition to Latest Proposed Oil & Gas Project in Utah’s Famed Nine Mile Canyon

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2008
12:29 PM

CONTACT: Environmental Groups
Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 486-3161 x.3981
Pam Miller, Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, (435) 650-2900
Johanna Wald, Natural Resources Defense Council, (415) 875-6100
Suzanne Jones, The Wilderness Society, (303) 650-5818 x.102
Thomas Kleinschnitz, Utah Guides and Outfitters, (800) 423-4668

Public Overwhelms Interior Dept. With Opposition
to Latest Proposed Oil & Gas Project in Utah’s Famed Nine Mile Canyon

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – May 7 – Last week tens of thousands of Americans from across the nation called on the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reject a Denver-based gas company’s plans to drill more than 800 new natural gas wells in eastern Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon region, an area world-renowned for its fragile rock art sites. Local and regional businesses and conservation groups also have asked the Interior Department to go back to the drawing board and not approve the West Tavaputs full-field development project offered by Bill Barrett Corporation and supported by the BLM.

The BLM received more than 53,000 comments from citizens across the country opposing the West Tavaputs natural gas project as proposed. The BLM also received letters criticizing the project from the state of Utah, the Hopi Tribe, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“Nine Mile Canyon contains rock art from Native American cultures from thousands of years ago to the Ute period of a few hundred years ago,” said Pam Miller, chair of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition’s board of directors. “It’s a truly unique area and one worth fighting for.” The Nine Mile Canyon area also provides crucial elk and deer winter habitat, and critical habitat for the federally protected Mexican spotted owl and four Colorado River fish.

The West Tavaputs project is by far the largest of several Barrett projects that are rapidly changing the face of the Nine Mile Canyon region, an area that the state of Utah describes in its website as an “outdoor museum” that “should be shown the respect due to one of the West’s ancient treasures.” (See www.utah.com/playgrounds/nine_mile.htm.) According to the BLM’s website, the Nine Mile Canyon region contains the “the greatest concentration of rock art sites in the U.S.A.” (See http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/price/recreation/9mile/9mile_col2.html.) More than 1,000 of these sites have been identified, along with centuries-old standing structures such as cliff dwellings and pit houses.

“The West Tavaputs project is the most egregious project that we’ve seen put forward by the BLM and industry in Utah during the Bush administration,” said Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

On Monday, Bill Barrett Corp. reported record profits, with first-quarter net income up 116% from the prior year period. “When a company like Barrett reports record profits just this week,” said Bloch, “doesn’t that reinforce the company’s obligation to Utahns to ensure that it drills only where appropriate and leaves the state as beautiful as they found it?”

The West Tavaputs project would industrialize an area that has received global recognition for its cultural resources and would permanently alter its unspoiled and wild nature. The proposed drilling would effectively eliminate large swaths of the Jack Canyon and Desolation Canyon BLM wilderness study areas, as well as two adjacent areas that BLM recognizes as having wilderness character. Under BLM and Bill Barrett Corp.’s “preferred” alternative, 230 wells – more than a quarter of the total number of project wells – would be drilled in these wild areas. The Desolation Canyon portion of the Green River, one of the West’s most iconic and remote stretches of river, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1969. Because of that designation, the BLM is required to manage the canyon to retain its remote and natural setting.

“Eastern Utah’s natural beauty and important cultural resources are drivers for our local economy, and BLM’s decisions should reflect a more forward-thinking approach to fragile places like Nine Mile Canyon,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, president of the Utah Guides and Outfitters. “I’m concerned that a large-scale drilling project like the one that’s proposed for West Tavaputs will hurt the area’s economy for generations.”

“The Bush administration’s energy policies are running roughshod over the laws that protect America’s treasured public lands and cultural resources, including the spectacular lands threatened by this project,” added NRDC senior attorney Johanna Wald. “It’s not surprising that so many individuals and groups are urging the BLM not to move forward on this senseless project, which seems designed to benefit no one except for oil and gas companies.”

The West Tavaputs project “preferred alternative” would authorize approximately 800 new natural gas wells over a 20 year period over a 137,000 acre project area in a largely remote and wild corner of east-central Utah. Though the project area has seen limited oil and gas drilling over the past 50 years, the level of development proposed by Bill Barrett Corp. would exponentially exceed the number of wells previously drilled in the area. The vast majority of the project is located on public lands managed on behalf of all Americans by the BLM.

“The administration has been relentlessly pushing oil and gas projects into some of our most valued Western landscapes, including Desolation Canyon and all around Dinosaur National Monument,” said Suzanne Jones, regional director of The Wilderness Society’s Central Rockies Office. “The West Tavaputs project is certainly one of the most extreme examples yet.”

Photographs of the types of cultural resources at risk from the West Tavaputs project can be viewed at SUWA’s website: www.suwa.org/WestTavaputs. Also available at that link are photographs of Jack Canyon wilderness study area and Desolation Canyon and electronic copies of comments submitted by various groups and organizations on the project.

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