Despite ancient rock art legacy, BLM leases land for fossil fuel exploration

    Despite development objectives from tribal and environmental groups, the BLM is leasing part of Emery County for fossil fuel exploration.

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    Image Credit: Evan Cobb/The Daily Herald via AP

    Rock art by the Fremont people dating back 3,000 years in Utah’s Molen Reef may soon be the next site for fossil fuel exploration. After the Bureau of Land Management “approved the leasing of 32,000 acres for mineral exploration between the San Rafael Swell and Molen Reef,” EcoWatch reported, resistance from a group rock art enthusiasts are trying to protect the sites they love.

    The group, which goes by the name the Utah Rock Art and Research Association (URARA), has been steadfast protesters of gas and oil exploration of the area where the Fremont legacy lives on. But their concerns run deeper than the rock art itself, “wilderness concerns crossover” too.

    “We’re an organization of both Republicans and Democrats,” Diane Orr, co-chair of URARA’s conservation and preservation committee, said. Our concern with oil and gas leases is when the leasing process does not carefully look at all the resources in the area and really evaluate what needs to be protected.

    While the group, along with other environmental organizations, has been successful in convincing the BLM to defer leasing in past years, this year, backed by the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda, that wasn’t the case. The BLM’s Price field office overruled deferment and will proceed with leasing the land, already putting 15 parcels east of Molen Reef up for auction.

    And the noncompetitive sale went to Liberty Petroleum based in Great Neck, New York. The company purchased 4,934 acres of land in the three most prominent rock art areas.

    The Salt Lake Tribune reported:

    Rock art aficionados have deep concerns about the impact of energy development on the petroglyphs that ancient Americans pecked into the region’s sandstone boulders centuries ago. They agree wells can be placed so they don’t obliterate rock art, but transportation routes needed to serve oil and gas extraction would inevitably follow the very washes used by ancient Americans who carved their art along the paths they traveled.

    But despite these development objectives along with historic preservation and tribal and environmental group concerns, the BLM is leasing part of Emery County for fossil fuel exploration.

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