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Federal Appeals Board Upholds Bush-Era BLM Lease Sale
(JULY 20, 2009: SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH) On July 15, 2009, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued a decision upholding a Bush-era oil and gas lease sale and rejecting an appeal filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Wilderness Society that had challenged the sale of 15 leases in November 2006 located in sensitive lands throughout Utah. The groups had argued that BLM’s leasing decision violated important federal environmental and historic preservation laws.
Some of the 15 oil and gas leases are located in an archeologically-rich region in far southeastern Utah in an area known as Monument Canyon (near the Colorado/Utah border). Other leases are near the iconic White River in northeastern Utah, above the Colorado River east of Moab, and along the western shore of the Great Salt Lake. Click here to view photographs of these landscapes.
While this decision gives the owners of the leases a right to develop oil and gas somewhere on each lease, the decision did not approve any drilling. The lease owners will have to seek and obtain approval by federal and state agencies before it can begin this next round of activities. The conservation groups are reviewing the Board’s decision and will decide shortly on their next steps.
Utah, like most other western states, has a surplus of public lands under lease but not in development. According to fiscal year 2008 BLM figures, there are just under 5 million acres of BLM managed lands in Utah under lease but only 1.5 million acres in development. Likewise, Utah is running a surplus of approved, but not yet acted on drilling permits that increased dramatically throughout the Bush administration. The sale and development of these particular 15 leases—totaling less than 15,000 acres—would not meaningfully contribute to the nation’s or the state’s energy supplies. Click here to view the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s oil and gas fact sheet.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other conservation groups have an impressive track record of successfully challenging Bush-era Utah BLM oil and gas leasing decisions before the Interior Board of Land Appeals and in federal district court. Most recently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew 77 leases from the final Bush administration lease sale—the December 2008 “Christmas fire sale”—following a decision by federal district court judge Ricardo Urbina that BLM had likely violated the law when it decided to offer those 77 parcels for sale.