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SALT LAKE CITY -- After years of bitter battles over one of Utah's special places, warring factions signed a sort of "peace treaty" Tuesday. They agreed that large-scale natural gas drilling can go on while still protecting the world-famous archaeology of Nine Mile Canyon.
It was never quite so simple as archaeology protection versus energy development, but that's the major fault line the new agreement is intended to bridge.
The conservative governor shook hands with an environmental crusader, an archaeologist bent on protection signed, and so did an energy executive who wants to drill hundreds of natural gas wells.
"This is a good example of people from diverse backgrounds and diverse opinions coming together for the good of the whole and finding solutions," Gov. Gary Herbert said.
"You know, we all had to compromise. We had to give up things we wanted," said Jerry Spangler, with the Colorado Plateau Archeological Alliance.The energy company is now committed to protecting archaeology in what's been labeled "The World's Longest Art Gallery." The agreement calls for surveys, monitoring and dust control from large numbers of trucks. "It doesn't' specify the method that they will use, only that they will keep it under control so the dust does not rise any higher than the cab of the truck," Spangler explained.
"It's a live document as well," said Duane Zavadil, senior vice president of Bill Barrett Energy. "Through the monitoring process, if we find that something isn't effective, dust suppression methods aren't effective, if there is in fact vibration that's impacting those resources, we can adjust how we operate."
The company hopes to clear other environmental hurdles and get moving soon.
"Within a couple of years, we'll be producing a third of Utah's overall natural gas production," Zavadil said.
Critics say the agreement could have been reached years ago if the BLM had been willing to listen to outside groups.
"They weren't eager to deal with any members of the public." Spangler said. "They wanted to expedite oil and gas leases to the exclusion of the public."
There are still many unresolved questions about protections for wildlife and for proposed wilderness areas. The BLM has to finish an environmental impact statement before giving the go-ahead. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are keeping their powder dry, not ruling out future battles.