BLM resumes oil and gas leasing in Utah

Is Colt Walker, a prolific collector of expressions of interest on public land in Utah, a real person at all?

(Brian Maffly | Tribune File Photo) Pump jacks pull hydrocarbons in the Three Rivers oil field southwest of Vernal, pictured June 14, 2019. On Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management again offered oil and gas leases in the Uinta Basin after a A federal judge ordered the Biden government to lift the moratorium on leasing.

Under pressure from a recent court ruling, the Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday again offered leases for oil and gas development on public land in several western states. But supplies are low, including just six 6,658 acres of Utah parcels, and they won’t go up for auction until next year, more than a year since they were last sold.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden imposed a moratorium on new leases while the Home Office conducted a major review of the state’s oil and gas program, which critics claim is being manipulated to the detriment of taxpayers, wilderness, and the climate.

Industry challenged the moratorium in court and recently persuaded a judge to order Interior to lift the moratorium, even though the review has not yet been completed. In response, the BLM announced modest offers in the west on Tuesday that are slated to go on sale in the first quarter of 2022.

Environmentalists, who generally welcomed Biden’s move to reform the leasing program, condemned Tuesday’s offers, arguing that the BLM still had the discretion not to offer anything, especially with so much acreage serving former President Donald’s “American energy dominance” agenda Trump had been released.

“The agency has repeatedly recognized that the system is broken,” said Landon Newell, an official with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “You quickly pointed out the deficiencies in the program, but are still bound by the court decision. And so they have to at least go through the process of leasing while knowing and publicly acknowledging that the whole process is broken. “

On Tuesday, the BLM opened a 30-day “scoping period” for environmental reviews of proposed offerings in Utah and other states. The public has until October 1st to comment.

Four of the Utah parcels are in Uintah County, one in Grand County, and one in Emery County.

Denver-based Western Energy Alliance insists that the BLM must proceed with any packages that were slated for sale in the first half of 2021 under the previous administration.

“The announcement of further analyzes of rental packages without scheduling the actual sale this year corresponds neither to the wording of the law nor to the meaning of the court order to lift the rental ban,” said the president of the trade association Kathleen Sgamma. “The environmental analysis for lots that could be auctioned was completed at the beginning of the year before the illegal lease ban was announced. This analysis does not have to be repeated. “

Biden campaigned for a pledge to cut oil and gas leasing on public land as an important step in reducing the carbon emissions that are responsible for climate change. The increasing anger from both hurricanes in the south and forest fires in the west is attributed to the warming of the planet.

Activists say Biden is pulling back on his commitment to fighting the climate crisis, while industry groups say he is in violation of the Mineral Leasing Act and domestic policy, which instructs the BLM to hold statewide auctions every quarter. Sgamma accused the Biden administration of using further environmental analyzes as a pretext to justify their follow-up.

In fact, the amount of land proposed for lease is a small fraction of the industry “nominated” plots, which, according to a SUWA analysis, include dozens inside or outside the former boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument. It is widely expected that Biden will restore the monument boundaries that Trump reduced.

Since the leasing moratorium went into effect in January, the industry has submitted 376 “expressions of interest” for approximately 100,000 acres in Utah, primarily in San Juan County, according to a BLM database. The chances that the BLM would lease these properties are slim, but the fact that anyone can ask the BLM to lease such land is further evidence that the lease program is not in the public interest and is unnecessarily consuming BLM resources said Newell.

One of the nominators is identified as “Colt Walker,” who filed 116 expressions of interest in June, most of them for land along the eastern border of the Sash Ja unit of Bears Ears and in Grand County north of Canyonlands National Park. This name is likely a pseudonym, referring to a famous firearm of the same name that was designated the official state pistol of Texas just weeks earlier.

“Look how easy it is for that fake person, Colt Walker, to nominate huge swaths of the Utah Redrock wilderness for lease without penalty. He doesn’t have to pay anything, ”Newell said. “Nobody wins in this scenario and the BLM has to devote all of these resources to reviewing it.”

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