Drilling company commits millions to archeology preservation

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CARBON COUNTY -- A company embattled for years over drilling near Nine Mile Canyon is putting money on the table to help the cause of its former opponents.

I think what we're seeing here is a good step by industry and the conservation community to come together and say, 'Let's find a way to have both.'

–Jerry Spangler, conservationist

Tuesday, the Bill Barrett Corporation announced a commitment of several million dollars to preserve archaeological treasures and make them better known.

The convoy was organized by seemingly natural enemies: archaeologists and drilling executives now working together.

First stop: the Owl Panel. The rock art has been in Nine Mile Canyon for half a millennium, but it's been seen by very few.

"In the last couple of years, it's become very well-known through some Internet sites that have disclosed its location and how to get to it," says Jerry Spangler, of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance.

After years of battles over plans to drill 600 natural gas wells on nearby plateaus, the Bill Barrett Corporation kissed and made up. Now the dowry: $5,000 per well for archaeology research, education and preservation.

"[It's for] protection of the artifacts, promotion of the resource here so that more people know about Nine Mile Canyon and really what a trove of archaeological treasure it is," says Jim Felton, of the Bill Barrett Corporation.

Listening sure beats litigation.

–Jim Felton, Bill Barrett Corp.

Archaeologists find something new in the canyon almost every day. It's already considered in the top rank of archaeological sites, and only 5 percent of it has been surveyed.

"There is no other place that I know of that has as much rock art within a narrowly-confined area as Nine Mile Canyon," Spangler says.

Bill Barrett will also contribute $10 million to chip-seal the road, as dust has been a major concern of rock art lovers.

All this follows a sweeping compromise that settled years of disputes over energy production versus preservation.

"I think what we're seeing here is a good step by industry and the conservation community to come together and say, 'Let's find a way to have both.' And I'm encouraged by that," Spangler says.

The company is already seeking applicants with proposals to spend the money in useful ways.

"Listening sure beats litigation," Felton says.

The chip-seal road project to control dust will cost a total of $20 million. County and state funds will cover half the cost of the project.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com

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