No new date set for Utah oil lease sale delayed by activists

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2015 5:40 PM

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has not set a new date for an oil and natural gas lease auction of federal lands in Utah postponed this week following overwhelming interest from the public, including climate activists, who wanted to attend the event.

Officials want to hold the auction as soon as possible but rescheduling the sale is tricky going into the holidays, Megan Crandall, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management office in Utah, said on Wednesday. She said talks on rescheduling have started.

"In no way is there any intention whatsoever to let this languish," said Crandall. "Our intention is to move forward with as much alacrity as possible."

The BLM on Tuesday postponed the auction of leases on 39 parcels of public land representing nearly 37,600 acres, mostly in the northeastern part of Utah. The office had gotten a large number of phone calls from the public, including activists, who wanted to attend the sale.

The office where the quarterly auctions are held only has space for about 66 people.

Environmental groups emboldened by President Barack Obama's killing of the Keystone XL oil pipeline this month say stopping oil and gas drilling on U.S. public lands is their next goal in the fight against climate change. [nL1N1341NF]

Activists last week also protested a lease sale in Denver, but that sale went ahead as planned.

About 20 percent of the oil and about 14 percent of the natural gas produced in the United States is drilled on public lands.

Kathleen Sgamma, an official of the industry group the Western Energy Alliance, said the activists trying to delay or stop lease sales were on a "fools' errand," as "the idea that we can stop fossil fuels and then some bright new future of renewables will spring forth is not a serious proposal."

The BLM has adopted measures to reform oil and gas leasing and auctions after a protest in 2008 by activist Tim DeChristopher, who spent time in jail after disrupting a lease sale by posing as a bidder.

But federal requirements to keep the auctions transparent and open to the public mean the agency could face difficulties in stopping activists from interfering with the sales.

"We move forward with the idea that this is open to interested people and everyone will behave appropriately and well," said Crandall.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chris Reese)