Oil Wells Proposed on Literally “Sacred” Ground

This blog was originally written by Friends of Cedar Mesa and appeared on their website on July 20, 2014. For more information please visit Friends of Cedar Mesa at www.friendsofcedarmesa.org  

The BLM is proposing to sell leases to oil and gas companies on a number of parcels near Bluff. These include leases that are literally on sacred ground.

Background: Based on requests from industry, the BLM has initiated the process of deciding upon parcels in San Juan County to include in a competitive oil and gas lease sale planed for February 2015. Comments for the “scoping phase” of this plan are due Friday, July 25th

The initial list of parcels included in the “scoping” process has some very concerning inclusions. Here is a summary of our concerns.

Startlingly close to the St. Christopher Episcopal Missionmission-map-with-water-well-Low-Rez

Marked as parcel #35 on the BLM’s map is a 32-acre lease immediately north of the St. Christopher’s Mission, a National Historic site and active congregation just a couple of miles east of Bluff. This proposed lease includes slick rock areas on the bench above the mission, as well as two small side canyo
ns immediately behind the Mission. The area includes Ute/Navajo rock art, an active year-round spring, areas frequently hiked by Bluff locals, and of course the immediate back drop to the mission. A particular concern is the proximity of the proposed lease to the Mission’s artesian water well, which provides drinking water to many families within a 25 mile radius that use the Mission’s public hydrant – many because water sources near them have been impacted by oil and gas development. The lease is approximately 700 feet from the Mission’s well, which is within a typical “protection zone” for drinking water. For example, Bluff’s artesian wells nearby have protection zones of 790 and 860 feet. That assumes that absolutely no pollution would leave the confines of the lease, which is an unreasonable assumption, given that any water that drops on the lease would flow right onto the Mission property.

There’s a reason it’s called “Sacred Mesa”
Another parcel marked as #35 on the BLM map is further west and includes a very important and sizable archaeological site known as Sacred Mesa. This Prehistoric cultural site includes both Basketmaker and Pueblo artifacts and rock art. The site has important significance to modern Hopi and Pueblo Indian groups. No doubt virtually the entire lease area contains smaller sites surrounding Sacred Mesa as well.

Sacred Mesa is home to a significant Pueblo era cultural site.

Undermining and short circuiting legislative efforts to protect cultural resources

Beyond these two very concerning parcels, several other proposed leases also fall within the National Conservation Area proposed by Friends of Cedar Mesa. These are parcels numbers 35, 54, 32, 33, 30, 34, 31, 30, 29. All of these likely contain cultural resources. (Click for a map of these parcels.) Similarly, 25 parcels (nearly 60% of those proposed) are within the Montezuma Canyon National Conservation Area proposed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which seeks to protect the area’s remarkable cultural resources. (Click for a map of these parcels.)

Including the parcels that fall within the FCM and NTHP proposal areas in the lease sale short circuits a current legislative process that the citizens of San Juan County are actively engaged with, working with the offices of Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz. The BLM should defer these leases until legislation is finalized. This administrative process threatens to over rule and override the good faith efforts of conservation groups, the county, and other citizens to resolve long standing issues via legislation.

We encourage any and all concerned about these leases to write the BLM with a individualized, personal letter/email. The comment deadline to urge the BLM to remove these parcels from the list is July 25th.

Comments can be submitted by mail to
Cliff Giffen
365 North Main
Monticello, UT 84535
or by email to blm_ut_mt_og_leasing_comments@blm.gov.
Thanks for taking the time to speak out on behalf of these beautiful lands and important cultural resources.

Posted by Danielle Murray in Blog & Videos, Friends Groups, Friends of Cedar Mesa
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