ST. GEORGE — The Bureau of Land Management auctioned off over 200,000 acres of public lands in Utah for fossil fuel development in a lease sale earlier this month.
Some of the land is in the San Rafael Desert in Southern Utah near Canyonlands National Park and along the Green River. Of the 109 parcels offered up for sale, 69 received bids in the Sept. 11 online auction, which amounted to about 134,000 acres sold. The sale made about $3.3 million for the federal government.
Oil and gas leases were awarded for a term of 10 years and for as long as needed beyond that if there is production of oil and gas in paying quantities. North American Helium was the biggest spender at the auction – paying $435,591 for a lease on a 1,971-acre parcel.
The sale drew protests from dozens of Utahns who gathered in front of the Bureau of Land Management office in Salt Lake City to oppose the sale Sept. 11.
“Selling parcels adjacent to our beloved parks and monuments is appalling, yet has been business as usual here in Utah,” said Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah Sierra Club. “Our national parks remain plagued with poor air quality and auctioning lands for dirty fuel development at their doorsteps only stands to worsen users’ experiences and threaten environmental health.”
Opponents of the sale made the point that fracking in these regions may threaten endangered or sensitive species like the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, greater sage grouse, white-tailed prairie dog, kit fox and burrowing owl.
Fracking destroys public lands and wildlife habitat with networks of fracking wells, compressor stations, pipelines and roads, according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Oil industry activities also pollute the air with dangerous toxins linked to human illness and death, the press release stated.
“The Trump administration is turning Utah into a sacrifice zone to reward fossil fuel companies,” said Ryan Beam, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“These policies are wreaking havoc on our treasured landscapes, the plants and animals that call them home, the health of our communities and our climate. This is a dangerous, irresponsible use of our public lands.”
According to the BLM, its official policy is to promote oil and gas development if it meets the guidelines established by laws like the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which ensures the environment is protected when land is developed.
“The sales are also in keeping with the (Trump) administration’s goal of American energy independence, which includes development of fossil fuels and coal, as well as renewable energy,” according to a press release from the BLM.
Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the lease sale is a “full-on assault” against pristine, untouched lands across Utah. Environmentalists will continue to oppose efforts to sell Utah’s public lands, he said.
“The oil and gas industry has been trying to get its hands on this remote, wild corner of Utah’s red-rock country for years and we’ve fought them off,” Bloch said. “They’re not going to get it this time either without a fight.”
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