DOI review finds inadequate consultations before Utah lease sale

A review of the process leading to leasing of 77 tracts in a December sale in Utah which US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar later canceled found flaws leading up to the sale, the US Department of the Interior said on June 11.

Salazar, who commissioned the report as a condition for winning US Senate approval of Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes, said that the team led by Hayes which conducted the review found that the Utah office of the US Bureau of Land Management did not adequately consult with the National Park Service.

“Only when the light of public scrutiny was shed on the situation did they reconsider some of the most problematic leases, but many of the 77 parcels that were auctioned off are close to national park units and even closer to other sensitive, world-class landscapes including Desolation Canyon and Nine Mile Canyon,” Salazar said.

He said that he agreed with the report’s recommendations and has directed the BLM to coordinate with other federal and state agencies in formulating a comprehensive air quality strategy for the region, and to form a special BLM team to conduct a final decision-making review of the 77 parcels.

This next review will group parcels in categories, since some already are in current production while others might need more extensive examination, Salazar said.

He directed that the leases be withdrawn on Feb. 6 after a federal district court on Jan. 17 granted a motion filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and others for a temporary restraining order enjoining BLM from issuing the leases.

Bennett’s protest

US Sen. Robert B. Bennett (R-Utah) blocked consideration of Hayes’s nomination to protest Salazar’s decision until he received the secretary’s assurance that his deputy would promptly lead a review of the matter. Hayes was confirmed on May 20.

In addition to a review of the administrative record that accompanied the 77 parcels’ auction, DOI said that the report was based on inspections on the ground and from the air of the tracts; interview with BLM, NPS, and other DOI officials who were involved in lease-related decisions; a listening session with state and local officials and representatives; a May 26 public meeting in Vernal, Utah; and conference calls with oil and gas industry representatives and environmental organizations.

In response to the report’s release, the American Petroleum Institute said that while it was pleased that DOI intends to review the withdrawn leases further, it also is concerned that the report will be used to justify not acting to develop energy resources on public lands in the Intermountain West.

“Oil and gas production from these lands is essential to helping American meet its energy needs in the years and decades to come,” it said in a June 11 statement. “Development of these lands also represents an important source of good-paying jobs and government revenues to the region’s economy.”

Hundreds of concerned citizens have made the case to Hayes and other DOI officials that this is particularly true for rural areas such as northeastern Utah’s Uintah Basin, API said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com  

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