Showdown at Weatherman Draw 

Drilling around rock art

On Monday, May 21, the Bureau of Land Management upheld a ruling that allows California billionaire Philip Anschutz to drill a test well for oil in Weatherman Draw, some 15 miles southeast of Bridger, one of the most prized Native American archeological sites in the High Plains. The permit, which had been stalled for years by the BLM due to concerns about the region’s well-preserved ancient rock art, as well as rare mating habitat for the endangered sage grouse, was granted by the feds just 12 days after President Bush took office. According to The Los Angeles Times, Anschutz, who owns the L.A. Kings and an interest in the L.A. Lakers, gave more than $300,000 to Republican causes in the last four years.

The permit states that Anschutz Exploration Corp. must prevent oil workers from wandering into the sacred areas, requires that no activity occur on the site during sage grouse breeding or native religious ceremonies, and stipulates that a 24-hour sentry be posted to guard the road during operation. Environmentalists, historic preservationists and tribal representatives contend that a sentry would be a poor substitute for the protection that the site has previously enjoyed because of its obscurity and inaccessibility.

The Feb. 5 permit had been appealed by a consortium of 10 tribes, the Sierra Club and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In their appeal, advocates argued: “Should discovered quantities of oil and gas be deemed producible, the options to develop the potential field will almost certainly not be compatible with law, protection of cultural resources or treaties with Indian tribes or there religious needs.” Moreover, they stated, reopening the abandoned road to the site would open the door to motorized access, which is often a death sentence to archeological sites, allowing easy access to vandals and poachers.

Anschutz Exploration Corp. estimates that the oil pool could contain 10 million barrels of crude oil, about a half-day’s worth of the United States’ current oil appetite.

Many tribes claim historical connections to Weatherman Draw in their oral histories, including the Shoshone and Comanche, as well as the Crow, Arapaho, Sioux and Cheyenne. The history of the place is so complex, and the amount of rock art so extensive, that the full story of Weatherman Draw is not yet unwound. The May 21 BLM ruling states that only 34 percent of the area has been closely studied.

The consortium of tribes and non-profits have until June 21 to appeal again. The National Trust for Historic Preservation says they will issue their appeal this week.

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