Letter to the Editor: Nine Mile Canyon
Recent public interest in energy exploration in and around Nine Mile Canyon has prompted me to address some of the concerns, questions and media reports involving this area.
Nine Mile Canyon is a beloved place to many people. The archeological resources in this area are incredible and BLM is committed to protecting these places. However, not all of Nine Mile is in the BLM's hands. The state, the county and private land owners (including oil companies) own and manage a large portion of the canyon. Eight wells are located on non-BLM land in this area. We do not have jurisdiction over what happens on these lands, but we will continue to work closely with Carbon County and other private entities to try to manage them most appropriately.
On the lands that we do manage in this area, we take our responsibility very seriously. We are dedicated to taking every reasonable measure to protect the resources. It was with that in mind that our Price Field Office authorized the maintenance of a 28 year-old leaky pipeline in Nine Mile Canyon in early September.
The maintenance took place on BLM and private land along an existing right-of-way. A short time later, a BLM permitted archeological firm hired by the company discovered an 18-inch ash stain where the maintenance occurred. They suspected it could be a cultural site and reported it to the BLM.
Disturbance and damage to a potential archeological site is something we take seriously. We began a law enforcement investigation that included interviews of field personnel, the contractor, and officials at Bill Barrett Corporation. Our investigation has now concluded, and it has been determined the work was authorized and conducted within the existing right-of-way. Previous cultural surveys and surface disturbance had occurred along the right-of-way when the pipeline was laid in 1976. The potential archeological feature was not previously documented, and is was located a quarter mile away from the closest major archeological site (Red Man Village). With our current data it appears the site is on private land.
BLM has taken every action to research the incident, and we are now requiring BBC to have a cultural monitor on site during all future maintenance. Carbon testing of the site is underway to determine if it is in fact an archeological feature.
As for other projects in this area, we are taking every effort to ensure cultural resources are being protected and avoided. The proposed Stone Cabin Geophysical project is one example of this. A certified archeologist and third party monitor would accompany all operations and no source points are in Nine Mile Canyon or near known rock art. The BLM also required the company to conduct a 100 foot wide archeological survey to ensure any sites not previously discovered would also be protected. The size of the survey is typical for projects of this nature. These efforts go beyond the minimum to protect these valuable resources. Native American consultations are also ongoing with interested tribes.
We recognize that Nine Mile Canyon is a unique place, and thus far all of the proposals we are considering would not allow geophysical or drilling in Nine Mile Canyon Proper. Most of the proposals are in the tributary canyons and on the West Tavatputs Plateau, where 67 wells have been drilled over the last 50 years. For maintenance and upgrades to existing pipelines in the canyon we will continue to employ a high standard of cultural monitoring and surveying to protect archeology in the area. As a multiple-use agency, we have a responsibility to effectively protect cultural resources, while enabling those companies with current leases and existing development to extract the minerals.
Although we do not have jurisdiction over all the land in this area, we are committed to making certain that thorough environmental analysis and mitigation efforts are applied to all projects on BLM administered lands, particularly in the Nine Mile area. We welcome the public's comments, questions and assistance as we manage BLM lands, and will work with all county, state and private entities to ensure these areas are protected.