Utah oil-and-gas auction marked by bogus bidder, Robert Redford and heated protest

More than 100 protesters outside a U.S. Bureau of Land Management oil-and-gas drilling lease auction Friday in Salt Lake City charged the federal government with selling off 164,000 acres of public land for private profit, potentially defiling some of the state’s most treasured national parks.

“It’s public lands and not for private wealth,” protester Daniel Darger told The Associated Press. “It’s going to kill tourism in this state if you can see oil rigs from Arches National Park.”

That prospect — derricks in eyeshot of the park’s iconic Delicate Arch, which graces the state’s license plates — prompted a protest against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from the National Park Service and an admonishment from the Bush administration to work together. In the end, more than half of the acres proposed for the auction were dropped.

But criticism was still fierce on Friday, with actor and longtime Utah conservationist Robert Redford blasting the auction, which was held at a BLM office. Opponents said the auction was a “fire sale” in the waning days of the Bush administration and would have dire consequences for some of the state’s best remaining wild places.

One man, who won the right to lease several parcels, later was being questioned by police after admitting he did not have the money to pay.

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.