Preservationists Want To Protect Cultural Sites From Drilling

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The map from GAPP shows where underground gas deposits sought by drilling companies overlap with historical cultural sites.(Photo: Gas and Preservation Partnership)
The map from GAPP shows where underground gas deposits sought by drilling companies overlap with historical cultural sites.(Photo: Gas and Preservation Partnership)

The oil and gas industry has come up against controversy on a number of fronts: environmentalists are concerned about pollution; economists warn of inflated job projections; landowners question whether energy companies are living up to their lease agreements.

Now the industry is being asked to consider yet another angle in the debate over drilling: the harm done to ancient cultural sites.

It’s estimated there are thousands of significant archeological sites in Ohio dating as far back as 10-12 thousand years, and some of which undoubtedly fall within prime drilling territory.

The Gas and Preservation Partnership, or GAPP, based in Washington, formed only about a year ago to promote energy development while encouraging preservation of historic burial sites and other important cultural remnants.

Last week’s GAPP conference was the first, says Kevin Pape, a featured speaker at the event, and a consultant for energy companies around the country on issues of cultural preservation.

“A lot of the conversation had to do with establishing that sort of baseline of what IS the scale of potential impact? Is it real?”

Currently there’s little federal or state regulation to limit damage to cultural sites from drilling, and any new guidelines that GAPP comes up with would be strictly voluntary.

The preservation part is not always difficult, says Pape, but performing extensive surveys to identify significant sites can be cost prohibitive. So one goal of the partnership to come up with other, cheaper ways using existing archeological data bases.

Pape says the conference came far short of fully bridging the differences between the industry and preservationists, but he called it a good first step.

“I’d say we made a lot of progress. We are not yet at a place where we can say definitively that a balance has been struck,” Pape says.

Gapp organizers say they’re trying to enlist additional expertise to help develop those voluntary guidelines for cultural preservation, which, once formulated, will be posted online for public comment.

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