Utah oil, gas drilling lease auction begins | AspenTimes.com

Utah oil, gas drilling lease auction begins

Paul Foy
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

SALT LAKE CITY ” Security was tight Friday as an auction of leases for oil and gas drilling in Utah got under way after weeks of protest that the sale threatens the state’s wild lands and will bring drilling rigs within view of some national parks.

Despite complaints from environmental groups and scathing criticism from actor Robert Redford, the Bureau of Land Management was putting 132 parcels totaling about 164,000 acres up for bid.

The auction has been called a “fire sale” by opponents because details were first announced less than two months ago, on Nov. 4, and it is taking place a month before President Bush leaves office.

Groups, including the National Park Service, complained about some parcels originally up for auction, saying they were too close to national parks. In response, the BLM pulled some parcels, ultimately dropping more than half of the 359,000 acres originally proposed for auction.

Salt Lake City police, private security and BLM rangers were on hand Friday and BLM Utah Energy Team Leader Terry Catlin said the office had received some threatening e-mails. She would not elaborate.

Outside, more than 100 people holding signs reading “Protect Wild Utah” and “Our Home Is Not for Sale” peacefully protested the auction.

“It’s public lands and not for private wealth,” said Daniel Darger. “It’s going to kill tourism in this state if you can see oil rigs from Arches National Park.”

Demonstrators said they were upset that the government was rushing to lease the lands a month before Bush leaves office.

“If we’re going to sacrifice public lands, let’s do it with some deliberation, not in a hasty way,” said Joseph Flower, a University of Utah biology student.

But in a statement posted Thursday on her agency’s Web site, BLM Utah State Director Selma Sierra said only 6 percent of lease parcels will ever see drilling because of the “costly and speculative” nature of the business.

The BLM also typically imposes environmental safeguards on drilling parcels, Sierra said.

“Facts of the lease sale have been mischaracterized in the public forum, sowing confusion and misunderstanding,” Sierra wrote.

Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging 80 of the 132 lease parcels set to go up for bid.

On Thursday, the coalition of groups reached an agreement with the BLM that would allow the auction to go forward ” with safeguards, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

The agreement filed with U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. stipulates that the government won’t issue leases on the 80 parcels for 30 days, giving U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina time to consider whether to block the leases.

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