Preservation groups said Monday they want the Bureau of Land Management to pull 16 parcels near Utah's famed Nine Mile Canyon that are proposed for oil-and-gas lease sales.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation said additional energy activity in the area will drive up truck traffic and raise the risk that dust will damage thousands of prehistoric paintings and carvings in the canyon.
The BLM has already pulled nearly 100,000 acres from the Dec. 19 auction, including many parcels near Utah's national parks. There are still more than 276,000 acres up for bid.
The trust, along with the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, Nine Mile Canyon Coalition and the Utah Rock Art Research Association, filed a protest late last week over the 16 parcels.
Since the sale was announced earlier this fall, the BLM has been under pressure from the National Park Service and conservation groups to scale back the number of parcels in the lease auction.
The agency pulled drilling leases that were located on and around the borders of Arches National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park, all in Utah.
Last week, the BLM removed some auction parcels from Nine Mile Canyon and nearby Desolation Canyon on the Green River. It's a step in the right direction but still not enough, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
"We believe these public lands contain irreplaceable public resources" as valuable as the historic buildings the trust typically tries to protect, said Virgil McDill, a trust spokesman.
Steve Bloch, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which has been tracking the proposed lease sale, estimated the 16 parcels make up about 12,000 acres in the area around Nine Mile Canyon.
Nine Mile Canyon northeast of Price and sometimes called the world's longest art gallery is home to more than 10,000 ancient rock carvings and drawings. Mary Wilson, a spokeswoman for BLM's Utah offices, said the agency is planning on finalizing its list for the Dec. 19 sale by Friday.
She said no decision has been made on the groups' request. Any changes will show up on the final list released later this week, Wilson said. In a separate effort, the BLM is considering a proposal to dramatically ramp up natural-gas drilling above the canyon. If enacted, the plan would allow 800 more gas wells in the area and increase truck traffic on the narrow, unpaved canyon road from about 100 vehicles a day to more than 400.
Conservation groups have raised concerns that the extra truck traffic will increase dust in the canyon and put the rock art at risk. They've also opposed the use of magnesium chloride as a dust suppressant because the chemical has been shown to be corrosive.
Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp., which wants to expand its energy operations in the area, says a study it paid for this summer identified two dust suppressants that would be effective alternatives to magnesium chloride.