Salazar rolls back 11th-hour Bush administration oil and gas lease sale in Utah

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar Wednesday did a 180 on an 11th-hour Bush administration oil and gas lease sale of 77 parcels on U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Utah near such sensitive areas as Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Salazar said the BLM would withdraw leases sold in a controversial December auction in Salt Lake City that was marked by protests at BLM offices — including by luminaries such as Utah conservationist and actor Robert Redford — and infiltrated by an allegedly bogus bidder.

The leases led to infighting between the National Park Service and the BLM and drew protests from environmental groups fearful that drilling rigs would be visible from naturalist Edward Abbey’s old stomping grounds at Arches.

In its last weeks in office, the Bush Administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes in Utah,” former Colorado Sen. Salazar said in a release. “We need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources in places like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, for future generations.

I have directed Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bids on 77 parcels from the Dec. 19 lease sale and which are in close proximity to these national parks, monuments, and sensitive landscapes. We will take a fresh look at these 77 parcels and at the adequacy of the environmental review and analysis that led to their being offered for oil and gas development. I am also concerned that there was inadequate consultation with other agencies, including the National Park Service.

Now environmentalists are taking aim at a similar lease sale set for Feb. 12 in Colorado. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Wednesday filed a protest against a BLM auction of oil and gas leases on 83,000 acres of federal lands in this state, according to the Associated Press.

That Feb. 12 sale also has drawn the ire of local governments such as the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners, which filed a protest because approximately 50,000 of those acres are within their jurisdiction in southwestern Colorado and should be considered “wild and scenic” and prime wildlife habitat.

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