Artist's depiction of Spiral Jetty with an Oil Rig

The Spiral Jetty oil drilling story (broken by MAN) is picking up steam, with a little mention in the NYT, and a couple of hot-out-of-the-oven press releases. The Dia Foundation “adamantly opposes” the drilling, which it says would take place within 5 miles of Smithson’s iconic land art masterpiece. The National Trust for Historic preservation has also entered the fray. I can’t find a link to a press release from them, but the Trust’s president Richard Moe is quoted as saying “The National Trust for Historic Preservation believes that Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake is a significant cultural site from the recent past, merging art, the environment, and the landscape. We are deeply concerned about the potential harm that energy development could bring to the Spiral Jetty.”

Interestingly, the Spiral Jetty was originally situated “a few hundred yards” from another industrial jetty, which was used for oil exploration for 60 years, and was actively being used for at least 10 years after Smithson built the piece. As Tyler Green noted in a piece on the Jetty from 2005:

A few hundred yards east of Smithson’s spiral is an old industrial jetty, used for oil exploration from the 1920’s to the 1980’s. It is rotting toward dissolution. While he didn’t write about it, Smithson saw it when he was building Spiral Jetty. He must have known that the oil jetty would eventually decay and disappear, while his artwork would survive, forming a partnership with nature. It will last.

So I have to wonder how detrimental this drilling really is to the Spiral Jetty Experience, considering oil exploration was happening within a few hundred yards of the piece for 10 years or more after its creation (Smithson completed the Spiral Jetty in 1970). Maybe this new drilling operation would be more invasive somehow, or maybe I’m misunderstanding the role of the older jetty. But if Smithson picked a location where he knew oil exploration was ongoing, maybe it doesn’t really impact the work in a negative way. Did any of our readers visit the Spiral Jetty in the ’70s or ’80s while this oil exploration was active?

On the other hand, I’m inclined to trust the Dia Foundation to understand the intended presentation of the Spiral Jetty about as well as anyone. And the fact that they only put out their press release today suggests that they spent some time considering the issues before reacting. Anyway, if you want to weight in officially, Dia has put together a form letter to express opposition to the project, along with relevant contact info.

There’s more: I just caught wind of this article in the Salt Lake Tribune, which fleshes out some of the legal and ecological issues surrounding the proposed drilling. Near the end, the author of the piece states that “the state must honor mineral rights.” It sounds like the company already has a lease on the land, which was exempted from a conservation agreement between the state of Utah and several conservation groups.