A proposal to drill for oil in Utah’s Great Salt Lake could threaten artist Robert Smithson’s monumental 1970 earthwork “Spiral Jetty.” The Canadian firm Pearl Montana Exploration and Production holds three leases, dating to 2003, to drill exploratory boreholes near the iconic sculpture. A public comment period ends tomorrow as state officials evaluate the company’s permit requests.
Pearl submitted a state application on January 11 to drill two wells from floating barges anchored to the lakebed. The move caught artists and conservationists off guard. The 1,500-foot-long mud, salt crystal, and rock Spiral Jetty was supposedly safeguarded under a 19-month-old settlement. In May 2006, preservation groups including Western Resource Advocates, the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter, Friends of Great Salt Lake, and Great Salt Lake Audubon reached an agreement with the state that pulled back oil and gas leases in the northwest arm of the lake. The pact covered 116,000 acres, but left out 55,000 acres; the lake’s Little Valley Harbor, five miles southwest of the Spiral Jetty, falls within the exempted acreage.