BLM resumes oil and gas leasing in Utah
“Colt Walker,” a prolific declarer of expressions of interest on Utah public lands, is he even a real person?
Under pressure from a recent court order, the Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday resumed offering leases for oil and gas development on public lands in several western states. But the bids are slim, comprising just six plots covering 6,658 acres in Utah, and they won’t be auctioned until next year, more than a year after the last sale.
On day one of his tenure, President Joe Biden imposed a moratorium on new leases while the Home Office undertook a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program which critics say is rigged to the detriment taxpayers, wild landscapes and climate.
The industry has challenged the moratorium in court and recently convinced a judge to order the Interior to lift the moratorium, even though the review is not yet complete. In response, the BLM on Tuesday announced modest offers in the West that will be sold in the first quarter of 2022.
Environmental activists, who have generally praised Biden’s decision to reform the rental program, denounced Tuesday’s offers, arguing that the BLM still has the discretion to offer nothing, especially since so much acreage has been released in the service of former President Donald Trump’s “American energy domination” program. .
“The agency has repeatedly acknowledged that the system is down,” said Landon Newell, a lawyer with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “They were quick to point out the flaws in the program, but despite this, they are bound by the court ruling. And so they have to at least go through the rental process 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 bids in Utah and other states. The public has until October 1 to submit comments.
Four of Utah’s parcels are in Uintah County, one in Grand County, and one in Emery County.
The Denver-based Western Energy Alliance insists the BLM must move forward with all the plots that had been put up for sale in the first half of 2021 under the previous administration.
“The announcement of an additional analysis of rental plots without programming actual sales this year does not comply with either the letter of the law or the spirit of the judge’s order canceling the rental ban”, said trade association president Kathleen Sgamma. “The environmental scan was already completed for the plots ready for auction at the start of the year before the announcement of the illegal rental ban. It is not necessary to redo this analysis.
Biden has campaigned on a pledge to curb the leasing of oil and gas on public lands as a key step towards reducing carbon emissions, which are responsible for climate change. The increasing fury of hurricanes in the South and wildfires in the West has been attributed to global warming.
Campaigners say Biden is reneging on his commitment to tackle the climate crisis, while industry groups say he violates the Mineral Leasing Act and domestic policy that orders the BLM to hold statewide auctions on a quarterly basis . Sgamma accused the Biden administration of using new environmental scans as a pretext to justify its slowness.
This is because the amount of land offered for lease is a small fraction of the industry ‘proposed’ plots, which includes dozens within or adjacent to the former boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument, according to an analysis by SUWA. Biden is expected to largely restore the boundaries of the monument that had been reduced by Trump.
Since the lease moratorium took effect in January, the industry has filed 376 “expressions of interest” covering approximately 100,000 acres in Utah, mostly in San Juan County, according to a BLM database. . The chances of the BLM leasing these plots are slim, but the fact that anyone can ask the BLM to lease such land is further evidence that the leasing program is not in the public interest and is unnecessarily draining BLM resources, Newell said.
One of the nominators is identified as “Colt Walker”, who filed 116 expressions of interest in June, mostly for land along the eastern boundary of the Sash Ja unit of Bears Ears and in Grand County. north of Canyonlands National Park. This name is probably a pseudonym, referring to a famous gun of the same name which had been designated the official handgun of the State of Texas a few weeks before.
“Look how easy it is for this bogus individual, Colt Walker, to point out huge swathes of Utah’s Red Rock wilderness for hire without any consequences. He doesn’t have to pay anything, ”Newell said. “No one wins in this scenario and the BLM has to spend all of these resources to control them.”