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Lessons From Nine Mile Canyon: Achieving Consensus Over Energy Development on the Public Lands

Robert B. Keiter, Kirstin Lindstrom, Proceedings of 57th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2011)

Oil and gas development on federal public lands has long evoked controversy and litigation. During the early twenty-first century as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sought to expand and accelerate energy development on its lands, these controversies have intensified. In Utah, one of the more intense controversies involved the Nine Mile Canyon-West Tavaputs Plateau region in the energy-rich Uinta Basin, where the Bill Barrett Corporation (BBC) holds extensive federal leases. In 2004, BBC sought permission from BLM to drill 807 new wells covering 53,250 acres to access an estimated 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Because BBC's full field development proposal threatened both wilderness quality BLM lands and Native American rock art sites, it provoked substantial opposition from environmental and cultural resource protection groups. Based on recent history, the most likely outcome was protracted litigation that would have significantly delayed—or perhaps even stopped—the project. But that did not happen.
Rather than becoming enmeshed in endless court proceedings, BBC's energy development project is moving forward on the basis of two ground-breaking agreements involving BLM, BBC, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), local cultural resource advocacy groups, and others. One agreement addresses the Native Am