SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (April 26, 2004) - Today the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, and Utah Rock Art Research Association sued the Bush administration to halt a devastating natural gas exploration project -- known as the "Stone Cabin seismic project" -- in eastern Utah's stunning Nine Mile Canyon region.
According to the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM's) website, the Nine Mile Canyon region contains the "the greatest concentration of rock art sites in the U.S.A." More than a thousand of these sites have been located, along with centuries-old standing structures such as cliff dwellings and pit houses. A recently completed study by Dr. James Allison predicts that hundreds more of such sites are in the project area, but are either unknown or unrecorded. These fragile, irreplaceable national treasures are directly at risk from the Stone Cabin project.
"The Bush Administration has no shame when it comes to elevating energy development over all other uses of our public lands, but the Stone Cabin project takes the cake," said Stephen Bloch, staff attorney for SUWA. "Irreplaceable cultural resources will be damaged or destroyed if natural gas exploration is allowed to proceed as planned. We're going to do our best to stop that from happening."
"The Bush administration's energy policies are running roughshod over the laws that protect America's treasured public lands and cultural resources," said NRDC senior attorney Sharon Buccino. "As a last resort, we're going to court to try to stop this senseless destruction, which benefits no one except powerful energy companies."
"The administration has been relentlessly pushing oil and gas projects into some of our most valued Western landscapes, including Desolation Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument," said Suzanne Jones, Regional Director of The Wilderness Society's Four Corners Office. "The Stone Cabin project is certainly one of the most extreme examples yet."
Layne Miller, President of the Utah Rock Art Research Association's Board of Directors agreed, stating that, "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. It's a truly unique area and one worth fighting for."
"The Bush administration doesn't need to turn Nine Mile Canyon and other special places over to the oil and gas industry and put archeological treasures at risk to address America's energy needs," added Kevin Walker, Public Lands Chair for the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter.
The project, covering nearly 58,000 acres (90 square miles) in a remote corner of eastern Utah, would take place in several side canyons abutting Nine Mile Canyon and along a plateau overlooking the Canyon. Approximately 5,500 explosive detonations or seismic "shake points" are scheduled to take place throughout the area. Seismic testing will be conducted by a combination of vibroseis trucks (known as "thumper" trucks), large tractor-like vehicles mounted with drills, and helicopter-supported drill equipment.
The BLM received more than 24,000 comment letters, e-mails, and faxes from citizens across the country opposing the Stone Cabin seismic project. The BLM also received letters criticizing the project from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Native American tribes.
The Stone Cabin project is one of several projects proposed by Denver-based Bill Barrett Corporation (BBC) that is 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."
Photographs of the types of cultural resources at risk from the Stone Cabin project can be viewed at SUWA's website. Video footage of seismic operations can be viewed at www.suwa.org and www.wilderness.org.
The Nine Mile Canyon area, in addition to its abundant cultural resources, provides crucial elk and deer winter habitat, as well as critical habitat for the federally protected Mexican spotted owl. The project area also contains two BLM wilderness study areas, as well as two adjacent areas that the agency recognizes as having wilderness character.
In addition to the Stone Cabin seismic project, the BLM will soon be releasing another environmental assessment -- this time for 38 "exploratory wells" in the exact same area as the seismic project. BBC also has been working on major pipeline upgrades and new compressor stations, and is proposing more of this type of industrial infrastructure. Despite these numerous related development projects, however, the BLM refuses to analyze these projects in a comprehensive environmental impact statement.