Letterhead - Coalition Signs on To Comments Involving Utah Oil and Gas Lease Sales


Bureau of Land Management
Utah State Office
Attn: Angela Wadman
440 W 200 S #500
Salt Lake City, UT 84101

October 27, 2020

To the Bureau of Land Management:

The undersigned organizations are writing to provide public comment on the Supplemental Analysis for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Related to Oil and Gas Leasing in Utah (DOI-BLM-UT-0000-2021-0001-EA). Though the Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzes 14 lease sales covering 567 leases, including 242 suspended leases, this letter addresses several specific concerns we share about the February 2015, March 2018, and December 2018 oil and gas lease sales in the Monticello Field Office. Our concerns about BLM’s leasing practices in this region are not, however, limited to the issues raised in this letter.

The undersigned represent conservation non-governmental organizations and anthropological entities that recognize the critical cultural importance of the unprotected public lands between Bears Ears, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments in southeast Utah. We find the BLM’s curative attempt with this EA insufficient for several reasons – including that it is being done post-hoc and was not part of informing BLM’s decision-making process, as required – and in particular because it fails to analyze and address cumulative climate change impacts on cultural resources within the lease sales.

The regulations at 40 CFR § 1508.27 define the criteria for determining the intensity of an impact being analyzed under NEPA. Criterion 8 is “the degree to which the action may adversely affect districts, sites, highways, structures, or objects listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or may cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural, or historical resources.” Referencing this criterion, the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on page 7 states that any “[p]otential effects to listed or eligible cultural properties were addressed in the original lease sale EAs.” However, the BLM itself determined that the greenhouse gas (GHG)/climate change analysis of the February 2015, March 2018, and December 2018 was insufficient and required additional NEPA analysis. (See EA at 6.) Accordingly, if climate change was not properly analyzed in the original EAs, then the impacts of climate change on districts, sites, structures, or objects listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or other cultural resources could not have been properly analyzed.

The Supplemental EA addresses 1) anticipated reasonably foreseeable GHG emissions, 2) related impacts of oil and gas leasing and development, and 3) potential mitigation of those impacts. However, it fails to address any climate change impacts on several types of resources, including cultural and paleontological resources. The EA states that “[t]he projected GHG emissions from the proposed action are not expected to result in a measurable change in aggregate GHG emissions, the rate of climate change, or a change in the magnitude of effects from climate change”, yet the EA admits that “[a]nnual GHG operation and combustion emissions from the lease parcels in the 14 Lease Sales could increase statewide emissions by 4.76% and national emissions by 0.05%.” As we know, even small GHG contributions are significant, both to the resources harmed and in the eyes of the law. As such, we reject this conclusion that the projected GHG emissions will not result in a measurable change in aggregate GHG emissions and argue that the BLM should analyze the foreseeable direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of climate change on cultural resource preservation. Therefore, we support the No Action Alternative that would not lift the suspension on any leases and would cancel the leases.

1. Nature of Cultural Resources Within the February 2015, March 2018, and December 2018

The February 2015, March 2018 (DOI-BLM-UT-Y010-2017-0240-EA)1Note that this project is not currently accessible to the public on ePlanning and the hyperlink (https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ws/epl/s/l/prdr/null/project/82261) is broken., and December 2018 (DOI-BLM-UT-0000-2018-0003-OTHER_NEPA) lease sales all offered – and sold – parcels located in the Monticello Field Office that contain myriad cultural and archaeological sites. Based on the BLM’s own analysis, the March 2018 lease sale parcels contained 1,016 known cultural sites within parcel boundaries, and the December 2018 parcels contained 538 sites. This figure of over 1,500 known cultural sites does not include the additional sites within the 0.5-mile project Area of Potential Effects (APE) and sites not yet recorded. Those parcels have only seen an average cultural resource survey coverage of 30% and 20%, respectively. 

These recorded site numbers do not do justice to the magnitude and significance of cultural resources within this landscape. It is a landscape of complex, layered history dating back to time immemorial with evidence of people on the land as early as 6,000 B.C. These lease sales sold the right to drill lands that house multiple Ancestral Puebloan community centers, sheltered cliff dwellings and granaries, open surface sites, lithic scatters, Navajo and Ute structures, historic trails and artifact scatters, and rock imagery left by many different cultures. 

The density and complexity of sites, including thousands of sites eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, make this a cultural landscape with multiple, significant resources at risk. As such, the cumulative impacts of these lease sales and lease sales that have occurred since (lease sales in September 2019 and December 2019) must be analyzed by the BLM. The All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Pueblo of Acoma, Friends of Cedar Mesa, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and the National Parks Conservation Association recognized the high density of cultural resources and shortcomings of past National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) analyses when they protested these sales.2Feb. 2015 Lease Sale: NTHP, NPCA, and FCM filed a protest on 12/15/14. Mar. 2018 Lease Sale: NTHP and FCM filed a protest on 01/02/18.Mar. 2018 Lease Sale: SUWA, CBD, TWS, et al. filed a protest on 1/2/18 Dec. 2018 Lease Sale: FCM filed a protest on 11/5/18; protests filed on 11/5/2018 by the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Pueblo of Acoma were dismissed. Additionally, the BLM asked the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to weigh in on these controversial matters.

There are other factors of great concern: The 2015 lease sale includes a parcel that overlaps with the original Bears Ears National Monument boundary near Bluff, and like the March 2018 sale, has parcels less than 4 miles from Hovenweep National Monument. Additionally, parcels between the three lease sales overlap with the San Juan River ACEC (March 2018 sale), are adjacent to or within the Alkali Ridge ACEC (2015, March 2018, December 2018 sales), are directly adjacent to Cross Canyon WSA (March 2018 sale), abut Ute Mountain Ute allotments and Navajo Nation reservation (2015, March 2018, December 2018 sales), and border the San Juan River (March 2018 sale). The current land management plan may allow (unadvisedly, we believe) for leasing in or near these administratively protected places – but this complex of protected lands shows the significance of this landscape and its cultural resources. 

2. Climate Change Impacts Specific to the Southwest United States 

Currently, the U.S. is releasing more GHG emissions from public lands than it is sequestering.3Whitehouse, Tim. (2020, Aug. 17) Public Lands Are Key to Fighting Climate Change. Common Dreams. https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/08/17/public-lands-are-key-fighting-climate-change The reasonably foreseeable development of these lease sales will undoubtedly add to this imbalance (see EA at 25, 33) and contribute in a measurable way to climate change locally, nationally, and globally. The Supplemental EA only begins to discuss the impacts the southwestern U.S. will experience from climate change (see EA at 31 regarding discussions of observed temperature increases, hydrological drought, tree death, and wildfire increases). In the southwest, climate change will specifically target montane ecosystems with “narrow habitat tolerances” and lead to species loss, decrease vegetative cover and cause increased soil erosion, alter fire regimes, hurt endemic spring species, limit spring flow and aquifer recharge impeding wildlife access to water sources, and disproportionately affect native species.4National Park Service. (2011) Climate Change on the Southern Colorado Plateau. https://www.nps.gov/articles/southern-colorado-climate-change.htm San Juan County, the locale of these lease sales, is at a medium wildfire risk and high water stress risk due to climate change.5Thompson, S.A. and Y. Serkez. (2020, Sept. 18) Every Place Has Its Own Climate Risk. What Is It Where You Live? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/18/opinion/wildfire-hurricane-climate.html (using data from Four Twenty Seven.) We need only look at the 90% drought-related mortality of pinyon pine near Mesa Verde National Park to see climate change impacting this region – to take just one stark example.6Rockman, Marcy, Marissa Morgan, Sonya Ziaja, George Hambrecht, and Alison Meadow. 2016. Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy. Washington, DC: Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science and Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/upload/NPS-2016_Cultural-Resoures-Climate-Change-Strategy.pdf This begs the unanswered questions: how vulnerable are southwest cultural resources to climate change and how will these lease sales exacerbate these impacts?

3. Climate Change Impacts on Cultural Resources in the Southwest United States 

A 2019 article on the vulnerability of World Heritage Sites to climate change impacts states: “The historic environment is sensitive to climatic changes and particularly to severe weather events […] Changes in environmental parameters that control physical effects such as freezing and thawing, thermal shock, or changes in humidity, are critical for the conservation and durability of materials. They can result in exfoliation, powdering, detachment, or worsening crack formation and deformation […] causing decay with consequently loss of cultural value.”7Bonazza, Gagnon, AS, Sesana, E and Hughes, J. (2019) An integrated approach for assessing the vulnerability of World Heritage Sites to climate change impacts. Journal of Cultural Heritage. ISSN 1296-2074. Climate change trends will impact both exposed and buried cultural resources.8Cassar, JoAnn. (2016) Climate Change and Archaeological Sites: Adaptation Strategies. Cultural Heritage from Pollution to Climate Change (119-128). Bari: Edipuglia. Even in conditions of drought, like what is projected for the southwest U.S., “changes in water-table levels, in humidity cycles, in time of wetness, in groundwater, and in soil chemistry will impact on the conservation of archaeological remains.”9Id. Direct impacts from climate change to cultural resources include “sites being buried or newly exposed, with information being lost or newly gained” whereas indirect impacts can include the loss of buried resources due to changes in the rate of decay and erosion.10Id. An example of a cumulative impact is the loss of associated archaeological sites across the landscape because of extreme weather events expedited and exacerbated by GHG emissions from these lease sales and more recent lease sales in the Monticello Field Office.

The National Park Service (NPS), which manages units within the vicinity of these southeast Utah leases, has been monitoring climate change impacts on cultural resources. The 2016 NPS Cultural Resource Climate Change Strategy report states: “[e]vidence from across the NPS is also beginning to indicate cultural resources are vulnerable to other, more subtle processes as well, such as the impacts of more freeze/thaw cycles on stone materials or more rapid wetting and drying cycles on adobe buildings, and the loss of human knowledge traditionally associated with material culture.”11Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy at 18.

The types of impacts on cultural resources identified in the NPS report include:

●  Temperature change leading to:
○ Microcracking of site contexts from thermal stress
○ Faster deterioration of newly exposed artifacts and sites
○ More rapid decay of organic materials, particularly from increased freeze/thaw cycles
○ Abrasion of petroglyph and pictographs from increased wind
○ More rapid deterioration of constructed materials of landscape features

● Fire impacts leading to:
○ Damage or destruction of associated structures
○ Heat alteration of artifacts
○ Heat fracturing of stone artifacts
○ Paint oxidation, color change (on pottery, structures, murals, etc.)
○ Physical damage from firefighting efforts (fire lines)
○ Decreased accuracy of carbon-14 dating due to carbon contamination
○ Damage from fire-killed tree fall
○ Increased susceptibility to erosion and flooding
○ Increased looting after fire exposure

● Precipitation change leading to:
○ Loss of stratigraphic integrity due to crack/ heave damage in drier soils
○ Increased exposure from vegetation loss and erosion
○ Damage to unexcavated artifact and site integrity from the direct force of water
○ Site erosion from […] new flood channels ○ Direct physical damage from increased flooding events12Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy.
○ “Swelling-shrinkage of clay minerals in soils endangering the stability of buildings.”13ICOMOS Climate Change and Cultural Heritage Working Group. (2019.) The Future of Our Pasts: Engaging Cultural Heritage in Climate Action. Paris: ICOMOS. 68. https://indd.adobe.com/view/a9a551e3-3b23-4127-99fd-a7a80d91a29e The types of cultural sites present in the APEs of the lease sales and the cultural landscape at large are undoubtedly susceptible to these types of climate change-related adverse impacts. Once again, we can look to Mesa Verde National Park as a case study.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report on World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate: 

Mesa Verde’s 4,500 archaeological sites are under severe threat of irreversible damage both from the increasing wildfires and from the flash floods and erosion that often follow. The vulnerability of Mesa Verde’s cultural assets to climate change could have a negative effect on tourism in the park, which attracts about 500,000 visitors a year contributing about US $47 million to the local economy. Damage to archaeological sites and the iconic cliff dwellings could change this, as could more frequent park closures due to large wildfires.14Markham, A., Osipova, E., Lafrenz Samuels, K. and Caldas, A. (2016.) World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, France. http://whc.unesco.org/document/139944 

Another National Park unit that sheds light on localized climate impacts is Hovenweep National Monument. The 2019 Polluted Parks report by the National Parks Conservation Association used NPS data to calculate the climate change risks of National Park units. The study found climate change to be a significant concern for Hovenweep National Monument, meaning “a statistically significant or extreme temperature or precipitation trend or spring onset condition is identified in any of the three studies.”15Hovenweep National Monument. National Parks Conservation Association. Retrieved Oct. 20, 2020 from https://www.npca.org/parks/hovenweep-national-monument. Hovenweep itself is home to Ancestral Puebloan structures and rock imagery like its surrounding landscape. That it is facing a “significant” climate change risk indicates nearby cultural resources within different lease sales are also vulnerable. 

These comments have focused on addressing physical and tangible effects on cultural resources. Of course, loss of cultural resources and larger cultural landscapes is the destruction of more than the physical: it is the destruction of values, integrity, and other intangible effects that the BLM has not identified or addressed in its analyses. Importantly, it is the “destruction of a place where people go to reinforce values.”16Gaughen, Shasta. Environmental Law Institute. (2020) Swept Away: Safeguarding Tribal Cultural Heritage from the Impacts of Climate Change [Webinar]. With a new analysis and new information available, the BLM should reinitiate tribal consultation and learn what broader concerns of loss of tradition and value Tribes may have. 

A final point about climate change impacts on cultural resources is that cultural resources are often key to understanding past human interactions with environmental and climatic changes. This is an important reminder that not only can cultural resources provide information on past climate trends but that information itself can be lost by future climate impacts.17National Park Service. Department of Interior. (2014). Climate Change and Stewardship of Cultural Resources (Policy Memorandum 14-02).

4. BLM Must Improve Climate Change Analysis to Include Impacts to Cultural Resources 

Because it is clear that cultural resources are susceptible to climate change and they cannot physically or geographically adapt like natural resources, care must be taken to understand their vulnerability and plan for preservation and/or mitigation of climate change impacts.18 Based on climate projections, the increased GHG emissions projected for these three lease sales, and the vulnerability of cultural resources in this landscape, the BLM must analyze the reasonably foreseeable cumulative impacts of climate change on cultural resources in these sales. This was not done in past EAs nor was it addressed in the supplemental EA. The BLM cannot mitigate or avoid these impacts if it does not identify these foreseeable impacts and vulnerabilities in the first place. 

As a first step, the BLM should include reference and consideration of climate change resources (see below on page 7). Additionally, a recommended practice is a Resource Vulnerability Assessment, that can be defined by the formula: 

Vulnerability = Exposure + Sensitivity18Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy at 32.

This formula was developed by the NPS under the Department of the Interior but was not used in the original EAs or Supplemental EA. The outstanding questions we have for this Supplemental EA and cultural resource vulnerability include:

○ How is the vulnerability of cultural resources in the project APEs being assessed?
○ How is the vulnerability of a cultural landscape at large (including the Alkali Ridge National Historic Landmark) being assessed and inventoried?
○ How are climate change impacts on cultural resources being monitored?
○ How can the eligibility of sites in the leases be compromised by climate change related to the emissions from these sales?
○ What additional research is needed to understand and quantify impacts and tailor solutions specific to cultural resources of southeast Utah?19Bonazza et. al note at p. 8 that adaptation happens at the local level, so approaches must be localized, ground-tested, and appropriate to the geographic and environment in question.

We suggest quantitative and qualitative ways the BLM can a) address cumulative impacts on cultural resources in the Supplemental EA and b) monitor these impacts in the long run.

Quantitative climate change trends to monitor with regard to how they may impact cultural resources include:
○ Groundwater percentile2021 See Measuring Earth’s Surface Mass and Water Changes. Grace Tellus. NASA. Retrieved Oct. 2020 from https://grace.jpl.nasa.gov/.
○ Soil moisture percentile
○ Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Overall, NDVI is a standardized way to measure healthy vegetation
○ Streamflow
○ Temperature
○ Precipitation
○ Snowfall
○ Past/present scientific studies of similar projects/impacts in similar eco-zones
○ Literature reviews
○ Bird/animal counts (hidden game cameras)
○ On-site vegetation checks
○ Beetle infestations
○ Fire occurrence trends
○ Livestock grazing patterns

Qualitative ways the BLM can assess climate change impacts include:
○ Tribal oral stories/knowledge of the area that provide a longer-term baseline for how climate change has impacted plant and animal species
○ Shifts in weather patterns, growing seasons, and monsoon season
○ Volunteer monitoring
○ Repeat photography

Quantitative and qualitative impacts on cultural resources include:
○ Erosion at cultural sites
○ Erosion of floodplain in nearby waterways/arroyo cutting
○ Loss of artifact scatter from flooding
○ Loss or damage of cultural resources from fire
○ Wind erosion of rock imagery
○ Undercutting of structures, walls, and other features
○ Change in cover due to vegetation loss
○ Change in cover due to invasive species
○ Windthrow

5. Resources 

Please incorporate the following references into the supplemental analysis: 

● ICOMOS Climate Change and Cultural Heritage Working Group. 2019. The Future of Our Pasts: Engaging Cultural Heritage in Climate Action, July 1, 2019. Paris: ICOMOS. https://indd.adobe.com/view/a9a551e3-3b23-4127-99fd-a7a80d91a29e
● Rockman, Marcy, Marissa Morgan, Sonya Ziaja, George Hambrecht, and Alison Meadow. 2016. Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy. Washington, DC: Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science and Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/upload/NPS-2016_Cultural-Resoures-Climate-Change-Strategy.pdf
● National Park Service. Department of Interior. (2014). Climate Change and Stewardship of Cultural Resources (Policy Memorandum 14-02). https://www.nps.gov/policy/PolMemos/PM-14-02.htm
● Markham, A., Osipova, E., Lafrenz Samuels, K. and Caldas, A. (2016.) World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, France. http://whc.unesco.org/document/139944

6. Conclusion

The supplemental analysis fails to analyze climate change/GHG impacts on cultural resources. It also does not identify ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts of climate change on cultural resources in the project APEs. We urge the BLM to revisit the impacts of climate change on cultural resources throughout the February 2015, March 2018, and December 2018 lease sale APEs and select the No Action Alternative. As climate change can be mitigated by reducing GHG emissions, selecting the No Action Alternative is one critical step of many towards preserving the cultural sites within these lease sales. 



William H. Doelle, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Archaeology Southwest
Philip A. Francis, Jr.
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Liz Perry, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
Fumi Arakawa, PhD, RPA
Museum Director & Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology and the University Museum at New Mexico State University
Erika Pollard
Associate Director, Southwest Region
National Parks Conservation Association
Brian Turner
Senior Field Officer and Attorney
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Kurt F. Anschuetz, PhD, RPA
Rio del Oso Anthropological Services, LLC
Carly Ferro
Sierra Club Utah Chapter
Stuart S. Sumida
The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology
Werner Duecker
Utah Rock Art Research Association

Greg Sheehan, Utah BLM State Director
Kent Hoffman, Utah Deputy State Director
Gary Torres, Canyon Country District Manager
Amber Johnson, Monticello Field Office Manager