Interior boss to scrap disputed Utah drilling-lease sale
By Patty Henetz, Salt Lake Tribune
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will cancel the results of a chaotic Utah oil- and gas-lease sale that drew protests from conservationists, outdoors enthusiasts, the National Park Service, members of Congress and President Barack Obama's transition team chief.
While Salazar said he would make an announcement Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. MST on the lease auction conducted Dec. 19 in Salt Lake City, The Washington Post , citing unnamed Interior sources, said Salazar will invalidate the sale of 77 leases on 103,000 acres near Vernal, Moab and Price.
The lease sale, which the U.S. Bureau of Land Management conducted under the Bush administration's directive to maximize drilling in Utah's scenic redrock country, fell apart when a University of Utah student, Tim DeChristopher, monkey-wrenched the auction by winning bids on parcels with no intention of paying the $1.8 million owed for the leases.
On Tuesday, 11 conservation and historic preservation groups amended a lawsuit that already has resulted in a temporary restraining order against the BLM sale.
On Jan. 17, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina issued a temporary restraining order to indefinitely leases near Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Desolation Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument, wilderness study areas and Nine Mile Canyon
The groups had argued that the leases were faulty because the BLM didn't properly study air quality or potential damage to ancient rock art. Now the plaintiffs want the court to halt implementation of three BLM long-term management plans finalized for those regions just days before the disputed auction.
Same Day Statement (PDF)
Brett L. Tolman
United States Attorney District of Utah
U.S. Department of Justice