headlines | about |

Bush Takes Lame Duck Aim at Spiral Jetty?

By an executive order ironically announced on Election Day, the Bush administration opened up 360,000 acres of land in Utah to oil and natural gas drilling, scheduled to begin in December. One can only begin to wonder about the favors being paid back by this lame duck cowboy wannabee, and the harm he can still do as his powers diminish and his days are waning. It recalls Saruman in Lord of the Rings: even after he is dethroned and banished from his fortress, he still harbors enough residual malice to ravage the Shire.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management did not publish details of the 241 proposed parcels, but some are believed to be near national parks and monuments such as Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah. While much of the land up for lease by the government to oil and gas interests includes areas considered worthy of wilderness status, it is also possible that Spiral Jetty is threatened.

The incoming Obama administration has given indications they will reverse this executive order and bar the drilling once they assume power. It would indicate they are a friend of the environment, of the arts, and of Spiral Jetty. Robert Smithson's earthwork, perhaps the seminal and certainly the best known project of late 1960s land art, is situated on the northern shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake and has become a Rozel Point of contention (pun intended). On one side is Smithson's widow, the artist Nancy Holt, as well as the Dia Art Foundation, the art world in general, and various environmental organizations. On the other side is the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, and a wildcat oil company based in Canada that wants to begin "exploratory" drilling just a few miles away.

I covered the story on these pages back in February, when a frenzied letter writing campaign to save the Jetty enjoined an initial attempt to drill baby drill. Also available at: