Bush Admin Endangers 1000-yr-old Paintings for Energy Corp

Further proof, if you needed it, that corporations don’t give a damn about anything except the bottom line.The Bill Barrett Corporation, a Denver gas exploration and development company, wants to set off 5000 explosions in an attempt to find ‘images of natural gas’ under Nine Mile Canyon in Price, Utah. The inconvenient fact that Nine Mile Canyon happens to contain caves with 1000-year-old Anasazi drawings on its walls like these–

–is of no importance for them. But it is to Blaine Miller.

PRICE, Utah – Blaine Miller, a quiet, slow-talking 57-year-old archaeologist, has made a career of studying the haunting scenes of net-wielding hunters and sinuous horned snakes on the smooth rock faces of Nine Mile Canyon near here. His colleagues consider him a leading expert on the 400- to 1,500-year-old images etched and daubed on the canyon walls. But Mr. Miller’s bosses at the Bureau of Land Management barred him from evaluating recent proposals for natural gas exploration around the canyon after a gas company executive complained about his work.Mr. Miller said he had sought more stringent protections for the rock art than the government eventually required. His bosses said he had the appearance of a conflict of interest.

‘Conflict of interest’. Right. His interest in preserving an irreplaceable archeological site ‘conflicted’ with Barrett’s interest in blowing it up to–maybe; they’re just ‘exploring’–make a buck.

Last July, the manager of the Price field office of the Bureau of Land Management sent out a memorandum saying that the evaluation of an energy exploration proposal for Nine Mine Canyon by the Bill Barrett Corporation, a Denver gas exploration and development concern, was its “No. 1 priority.”

Mr. Miller was not allowed to participate in the seismic evaluation after his work on an earlier Barrett project was called into question. The Price office of the agency, where Mr. Miller has worked for two decades, is divided over his treatment; outside archeologists are concerned. Kevin Jones, Utah’s state archaeologist, said in an interview: “If the person who knows the most is taken off the project, it sends the message that perhaps he knew too much. Perhaps they didn’t want to hear what he had to say.”Duane Zavadil, Barrett’s manager of government and regulatory affairs, said Mr. Miller had been an obstructionist, overestimating the impact that the company’s proposals would have on the art, which the government is required by law to protect. Mr. Zavadil said the art, in places, had been “highly compromised from its original condition” by vandals long before Barrett arrived. He said Barrett had already taken steps to protect it, for example suppressing the dust on the dirt road through the canyon.

“I was uncomfortable with not only his performance but his attitude, his opinion about oil and gas,” Mr. Zavadil said. “It was very clear what his opinion was and that he was deeply, personally interested in those resources and really didn’t have any objectivity.”

Ah, yes–‘objectivity’. Mr Miller wasn’t willing to risk the destruction of ancient Native American art that belongs to all of us for the sake of furthering private corporate profits belonging only to Mr Barrett, so Mr Miller is therefore ‘not objective’.

Don’t you just love the way these guys define everything they want, no matter how destructive or venal, as an ‘objective good’ and everything that gets in the way of their profits as ‘non-objectivity’?

Miller is doing the job he was supposedly hired to do.

Mr. Miller’s employer, the Bureau of Land Management, which is part of the Interior Department, is charged with balancing the need to exploit energy and mineral resources against the need to preserve cultural and environmental bounties. The bureau’s approximately 200 archaeologists must inventory and decide how to protect cultural resources. They also assess whether a site merits inclusion on the federal government’s National Register of Historic Places. Nine Mile Canyon’s archaeological complex is a candidate for this designation.

Oops. Once the canyon is on the register, which it inevitably will be, resource exploitation will be off the table. Barrett is engaging in a simple swindle, using the political power he can buy for a song in an ultra-conservative state like Utah to sneak in under the wire and do what he knows he will soon be forbidden to do: blow the place up for the natural gas he thinks may be under it. There is, after all, a lot of money at stake.

Barrett’s financial appraisal of the area’s gas reserves, whose initial development will cost it an estimated $80 million by the end of this year, suggests there are 50 billion to 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas in the 57,500-acre project area. In April, Barrett registered a $172 million initial pubic stock offering; the more proven gas reserves a company has, the higher the value investors are likely to assign to it.

With that much loot hanging in the air, the BA took the case over in March.

Official interest in Barrett’s project has been palpable. In March, a top official in the Washington office of minerals, realty and resource protection inspected the site. A bureau spokeswoman said that the inquiry into Mr. Miller’s possible conflict of interest was largely handled in Washington.An Interior Department spokeswoman, Tina Kreisher, said the agency could not comment on the specifics of the case. But a department ethics official said that if a government employee or a close relative helped run such an organization, the employee’s work should not involve issues of concern to the outside organization without special dispensation.

The ethics inquiry began in June 2003 after the field office rejected an environmental assessment of Barrett’s first proposal for drilling seven wells.

The explanations for the rejection vary. Some bureau employees, who would not speak on the record for fear of retaliation, criticized the Barrett environmental document’s overall quality.

Patrick Gubbins, the bureau office manager, said, “There was a myriad of reasons that I didn’t feel comfortable going forward with it.” (emphasis added)

Note that ‘Washington’ was only interested in Barrett’s accusation that Miller had a ‘conflict of interest’, not in the bureau office’s accusation that Bartlett’s environmental ‘study’ was seriously flawed. They were apparently not concerned about that.

Once again the Bush Admin proves where its priorities are:


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