ON JANUARY 29, 2008, an e-mail began making the rounds of the art world. Originally sent by artist Nancy Holt to a small group of friends and colleagues, and rapidly forwarded on, the message contained an urgent appeal: Holt had been alerted, just the day before, to the existence of plans to drill for oil in the Great Salt Lake, near Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970, and she was asking people to contact the Utah state government to express their opposition before a rapidly approaching deadline for public comment. The drilling in question (a “wildcat,” or speculative, operation) calls for a series of exploratory wells to be sunk, using equipment on floating barges, some 3,000 feet into the lake bed of an area called the West Rozel Field Prospect—a parcel in the North Arm of the Great Salt Lake leased in 2003 from the state of Utah by Pearl Montana Exploration and Production, a Canadian oil and gas company. The site lies approximately five miles southwest of Rozel Point—roughly halfway between Gunnison Island, a wildlife sanctuary that is home to one of the world’s largest breeding populations of American white pelicans, and Spiral Jetty, the 1,500-foot-long coil of basalt and earth that is Smithson’s most famous, and Land art’s most celebrated, artwork.
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