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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday that he is rejecting the bids on 77 controversial Utah drilling leases close to national parks and sensitive public lands to give the department more time to review them. The leases were among the so-called midnight maneuvers enacted in the last days of the Bush administration, many of which were criticized by environmentalists for weakening environmental protections. The 77 leases comprise 130,000 acres close to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dinosaur National Monument and Nine Mile Canyon, and fetched $6 million in bids which Salazar said would be returned. They were among 116 parcels offered for bid in the region. “Those are American iconic treasures that we need to make sure are protected,” Salazar said in a conference call with reporters.

Salazar Pulls Controversial Utah Oil and Gas Leases

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday that he is rejecting the bids on 77 controversial Utah drilling leases close to national parks and sensitive public lands to give the department more time to review them.

The leases were among the so-called midnight maneuvers enacted in the last days of the Bush administration, many of which were criticized by environmentalists for weakening environmental protections.

The 77 leases comprise 130,000 acres close to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dinosaur National Monument and Nine Mile Canyon, and fetched $6 million in bids which Salazar said would be returned. They were among 116 parcels offered for bid in the region.

“Those are American iconic treasures that we need to make sure are protected,” Salazar said in a conference call with reporters.

Salazar said he was revisiting “a dozen or so” last-minute Bush initiatives, but he would not comment on them specifically.

“There were a number of decisions that were made by the Bush administration in the last several months in its existence,” he said. “In my view, several of those were rushed without going through the correct environmental review.”

Salazar cited inadequate environmental review in his decision to refuse the Utah bids. Salazar said consultation with the National Park Service was inadequate and the Interior Department failed to adequately consider the air quality impacts that increased drilling could have on nearby national parks.

Environmentalists had filed a lawsuit in an effort to block the leases. On Jan. 17, a U.S. district judge granted a temporary restraining order on them.

“We are delighted, naturally, that he is making the right decision here and pulling these leases,” said Garbett, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which filed the lawsuit, joined by other organizations.

He said the decision would “protect beautiful places and forego a minor amount of oil and gas.”

Salazar said the department would take “a fresh look” at the leases, and said some of them may be offered again.

“It will take time to restore the balance to our development of our conventional resources,” he said, “and restore the sort of thoughtful approach we should have had.”

Salazar wouldn’t comment on how it might affect the case of Tim De Christopher, the University of Utah student facing federal charges after he won bids on 13 of the 77 parcels but didn’t intend to pay for them.

The oil and gas industry criticized the decision.

“With this decision, our government is denying access to American energy that belongs to all Americans, and making it even more difficult to increase energy security and tackle climate change,” said Kathleen Sgamma, director of government affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.

About David Frey

Comments

  1. Hmmmm says:

    That should be a real stimulus to the economy. Bet Chavez is happy.

  2. Matthew Koehler says:

    Hmmmmm: You Drill Baby Drill folks are every bit the dinosaurs that you are chasing underground.

  3. Tom Klumker says:

    Dear Matthew,

    How come is it that all wise use advocates are always “Drill Baby Drill folks” when all most of us want is common sense to prevail? Hmmmm, I don’t know, but I would bet is not a reap and pillage type person that ( I don’t know your general philosophy) eco’s types always try to portray anybody who opposes their utopian views.

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks for this good article. As a Utah resident, I strongly support and applaud Secretary Salazar’s decision. The oil companies are literally sitting on millions of acres of already leased federal lands in the West where they are not conducting exploratory drilling. Indeed, many oil companies have recently laid off their drilling crews. These Utah lease sales were likely much more about speculation than any imminent or urgent exploration or development. We need to be putting solar panels on our roofs not drilling pads out in the middle of nowhere. The sooner we realize this, and get going on alternatives, the better.

  5. Marion says:

    That is great Richard if you have a spare 20,000 or more lying around. Most of us do not. How long until you can put that solar panel to heating your house? Next week, next month? How do you plan to heat your house until then? It is surely much warmer in Utah than in Wyoming if you do not need any heat.
    Are you also going to run your vehicle(s) with solar? Surely not plug it into electricity produced by one of those coal fired plants that the new president plans to bankrupt.
    It is true that a lot of rigs are shutting down due to the economy and also uncertainty about a President that has signaled his intention of shutting down a lot infrastructure that is in existence in favor of more environmentally friendly infrastructure that doesn’t exist yet.
    There is no oil in every parcel, sometimes they are bundled together and the leesee has to take worthless with the good, can you tell me that you want roads built and drilling to take place on parcels that engineers determine have none to little possibility of producing oil or gas? Remember we the tax payers get paid for the right to lease that land even when they do not touch it. I have to admit that it is beyond my understanding why anyone objects to the government actually getting money for leasing the right to drill for oil on a parcel, and then leaving it untouched.