Two disrupt, but fail to halt, BLM oil and gas lease sale in Utah

US Bureau of Land Management special agents detained two registered bidders after a Dec. 19 oil and gas lease sale in Utah was briefly delayed before finally being completed.

US Bureau of Land Management special agents detained two registered bidders after a Dec. 19 oil and gas lease sale in Utah was briefly delayed before finally being completed.

Agents are investigating the matter and coordinating with the US Attorney's office in Salt Lake City to determine whether the bidders broke federal laws by apparently trying to impede the bidding process, the Utah BLM office said in a statement. Some groups called for the sale's cancellation in the weeks leading up to it because it still included tracts in and near areas the groups said were previously protected despite several deletions.

One of the detained individuals, Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old University of Utah economics student and environmental activist, submitted $1.8 million of bogus bids. "I don't want to have to look back at 2008 and know that there was still a slight chance that we could have done something to make a difference, and I didn't have that chance," he told the Salt Lake Tribune.

DeChristopher apparently showed up for the lease sale and received a bidding paddle after showing his driver's license, according to other media reports. Federal regulations say that bidding for oil and gas leases is open to any US citizen over 21, but successful bidders must accept and pay for what they acquire, a spokesman in BLM's Washington headquarters said.

A spokeswoman for the US Attorney's office in Salt Lake City confirmed that the matter has been brought to its attention. "We are getting investigative reports from the BLM special agents which we will look and determine if there were violations of federal law. We have been in close contact and are discussing the situation. The process should take a couple of weeks," she told OGJ on Dec. 23.

Utah's BLM office said that 116 of the 131 offered parcels were sold, totaling 148,598 acres of federal land in Carbon, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Grand, San Juan and Uintah counties. Revenues totaled more than $7.4 million, including $7.2 million in bonus bids, $222,951 in rental fees and $16,240 in administrative fees, it indicated.

Enduring Resources LLC of Denver submitted the highest total bid per acre ($270) and per tract ($592,640) on Parcel 137 containing nearly 2.2 million acres in the Vernal area, the Utah BLM office said.

Meanwhile, 58 US House Democrats sent a letter on Dec. 22 to President-elect Barack H. Obama's transition team urging the new administration to either halt leasing of federal land in Utah which members of Congress have proposed for wilderness designation or, in cases where leases have been issued already, cancel them and refund what bidders have paid.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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