BLM’s Utah state office abruptly postpones oil, gas lease sale

The US Bureau of Land Management’s Utah state office postponed a Nov. 17 oil and gas lease sale one day before it was to have been held. It took the action “to allow the time needed to better accommodate the high level of public interest in attending the sale,” it said in a Nov. 16 announcement in which it also apologized for the short notice.

“BLM-Utah expects to reschedule the sale in the near future,” the announcement said. “Once the details have been determined, they will be released through the media and posted on the BLM-Utah state home page, as well as the BLM-Utah oil and gas leasing webpage.”

“We are moving forward with 39 parcels totaling 37,580 acres, mostly in the Green River district in the Price field office, but some in Fishlake National Forest and in the West Desert district,” a Utah BLM spokeswoman told OGJ on Nov. 17. “We intend to reschedule in the very near future.”

She said that a different venue likely will be part of how Utah BLM reschedules the sale. “We postponed because we realized the room in which we normally hold the sales wasn’t going to accommodate the level of interest. It just wasn’t feasible anymore,” she said.

“I think they erred on the side of caution,” Utah Petroleum Association Pres. Lee J. Peacock said with regard to the postponement on Nov. 17. “We’ve heard the last week or so about planned protests. But it’s an important issue for us because Utah is a big public lands state. I’m still trying to find out what happened.”

Environmental organizations that had planned to demonstrate outside the proceedings immediately declared a victory, and said they would hold a “Keep It in the Ground” celebration outside the BLM Utah state office the morning of Nov. 17 instead. At least three of the groups were part of a similar protest outside a lease sale that Colorado’s BLM office held on Nov. 12. One hundred and six parcels totaling 83,534 acres were sold for more than $5 million there.

‘Created a nuisance’

“It’s pretty straightforward how matters have reached this point actually,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice-president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance in Denver, said on Nov. 17. “The environmental lobby, feeling emboldened by the Keystone XL victory, is funding this movement to try to stop any leasing of fossil fuels on public lands. It’s interesting that the 50 protesters in Colorado last week didn’t disrupt the sale. They just created a nuisance out front.”

Several protesters in Colorado bragged they were on their way to other BLM oil and gas lease sales to try to disrupt them, “but they’re on a fool’s errand,” Sgamma told OGJ, noting that US Interior Sec. Sally Jewell “pooh-poohed the ‘keep it in the ground’ petition back in September as completely unrealistic.”

Leasing opponents had ample time to comment during the forthcoming Utah lease sale’s protest period, which ended in September, she noted. “Rather than taking part in the open process that enables reasoned input from the public, they’re engaging in media stunts and asking BLM to violate the law,” Sgamma said.

She said that BLM is required to hold at least four lease sales yearly in Utah and other states with federally managed onshore oil and gas resources under the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act. “[The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act] requires careful land use planning, which BLM has judiciously done leading up to this sale, and policies put in place in 2010 add even more layers of [National Environmental Policy Act] analysis to the process,” Sgamma said.

She predicted that the Utah sale’s delay will be minor, and leasing there will take place once BLM selects a larger venue. “Obviously, there is no real alternative to oil, gas, coal, and nuclear that supplies all of America’s energy needs reliably,” Sgamma said. “The unrealistic demands of these groups are not serious nor should they be treated as such.”

A December 2008 Utah BLM oil and gas lease sale was briefly disrupted after Tim DeChristopher, a University of Utah economics student and environmental activist, submitted $1.8 million of bogus bids (OGJ Online, Dec. 23, 2008). The maneuver made him a celebrity when he was prosecuted and served 2 years in prison.

Contact Nick Snow at

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