BLM withdraws controversial Nine Mile Canyon leases

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Bureau of Land Management withdrew two controversial parcels in Nine Mile Canyon that had been proposed to be part of an oil and gas lease-sale on Tuesday.

Multiple groups, including the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance had objected to the parcels potentially being subject to oil or gas development because of the abundance of cultural resources in the area.

“We are relieved that BLM has deferred these parcels,” said Dennis Willis, head of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition. “We look forward to working with BLM to complete its long overdue commitments to protect the undeniably significant and culturally rich landscape in Nine Mile Canyon.”

The groups continue to express concern over four of the 26 remaining parcels in Desolation and Argyle canyons that are available at the BLM Utah’s first online-only auction.

“Both the Desolation Canyon region and Argyle Canyon contain remarkable and significant cultural resources,” said Jerry Spangler with the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance. “As with the two Nine Mile Canyon parcels, BLM should not lease in the Argyle Canyon and the greater Desolation Canyon area until it resolves the remaining potential threats to this culturally rich landscape.”

The BLM had proposed to lease the parcels with no surface occupancy stipulations, the agency’s most stringent requirements for potential oil and gas development that would have necessitated directional drilling.

Critics, however, said the location of the parcels would have guaranteed access by private or state lands on the bottom of Nile Mile Canyon — a factor which brought strong objections.

Willis said the sale proposed by BLM was contrary to the tenets of a programmatic agreement on the West Tavaputs Plateau that was a commitment by the federal agency to avoid the impacts of drilling in the canyon bottoms.

In 2010, the agreement was inked by the BLM and the Bill Barrett Corp., a natural gas drilling company, to put in place protections for the canyon to safeguard against impacts from industry activity.

Nine Mile Canyon, which runs for 40 miles, is often called the world’s longest art gallery, with numerous rock art panels mostly from Fremont Indians from 1,000 years ago. More than 10,000 examples of rock art and other etchings exist in the area, as well as other cultural relics.

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