BLM's 2009 leasing is off to a good start, Salazar says. So are protests.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cited the Bureau of Land Management's robust 2009 oil and gas leasing schedule a day after Utah's BLM office delayed issuing 31 awarded leases to resolve protests which arrived after the filing deadline.

Jun 30th, 2009

The US Department of the Interior has made progress the last six months in responsibly developing oil and gas resources on public land, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on June 24. It has offered more than 2.5 million acres, primarily in the West, and companies have paid more than $60 billion in bonus bids and leasing fees for tracts totaling 782,280 acres, he reported.

“As part of President [Barack H.] Obama’s comprehensive energy strategy, our Bureau of Land Management has an active and robust program to responsibly develop onshore US lands for traditional energy production,” Salazar said. “We have held 17 oil and gas lease sales since January and plan to hold another 20 sales in the next six months.”

So far in 2009, he said that BLM has offered 1,749 parcels totaling 2,261,854 acres and sold oil and gas leases on 866 parcels totaling 782,280 of those acres in 866 parcels, collecting $60,108,904 in revenue. BLM offices in Montana and Wyoming have each held lease sales so far this year. Offices in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah have each had two, while one each was held in California, Oregon and the eastern states.

“[BLM] plays an important role in working with industry and local communities that rely on traditional energy development on US lands, and in ensuring the protection of wildlife and our treasured landscapes,” Salazar said.

His statements came one day after Utah’s BLM office held its second 2009 lease sale. It was quieter than the one which took place Dec. 18 when an environmental activist submitted high bids without money to pay for them, and conservation groups sued to overturn the results because they felt the tracts were too close to national parks and monuments and other environmentally sensitive areas. Salazar agreed soon after becoming Interior secretary and ordered BLM to reject successful bids on the 77 leases.

Sold, but delayed

But the June 23 sale in Salt Lake City still generated comment when the BLM office there delayed issuing the 31 leases which were sold until protests which arrived after the deadline are resolved.

“While we appreciate the need to address all protests to proposed lease sales, the deviation from the set procedures by accepting the late protests does not promote confidence that the Obama administration is committed to an orderly and predictable lease sale process that allows development of energy resources that belong to the American people,” American Petroleum Institute President Jack N. Gerard said on June 24.

“This apparent policy of delaying oil and natural gas development, which flies in the face of public sentiment that favors greater access to domestic oil and natural gas resources, serves as a disincentive to companies who are willing to spend billions of dollars in America to hire American workers to produce American fuel for the American consumer,” he maintained.

Bethany Crandall, a Utah BLM spokeswoman, said the decision was not a change from previous policies. “We went into the auction with 42 parcels. We told bidders that we were evaluating additional protests which had been received late, and told them to be aware that they may successfully bid for a parcel which has been protested,” she told me on June 26.

The Center for Native Ecosystems in Denver and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in Washington, DC, each notified Utah’s BLM office that they intended to protest leases at the sale but would miss the filing deadline by a few hours, according to Crandall.

Protests are routine

“The only unusual part of the situation was that we accepted the protests late. The fact that we sold parcels with protests attached to them was not unusual. Every sale for the last seven years has had protests. It’s important for us to recognize that people have concerns and may protest. It’s also our policy to never issue leases until the protests on them have been resolved,” she said.

BLM officials in other state offices told me that lease protests are routine. Sometimes, they can lead to delays in issuing a few leases. Other times, all the awarded tracts are put on hold.

Joel Webster, TRCP’s associate director of campaigns, welcomed the Utah BLM office’s decision. The group protested 2.5 million acres of leases in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming in 2007 and 2008 after concluding that fish and wildlife resources or hunting and fishing could be significantly affected if the areas were developed as proposed, he said.

“Sportsmen unreservedly support oil and gas production on America’s public lands. But responsible administration of these resources demands a consistent approach to leasing and development activities in order to sustain fish and wildlife, and to provide companies wishing to extract energy from our lands and waters an increased level of certainty in their investments and planning,” Webster said.

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