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The U.S. Department of the Interior is auctioning on Tuesday, March 20, a total of 43 parcels in southeast Utah for oil and gas development, despite protests from environmentalists that the lease sales are near archaeological monuments and spectacular redrock wilderness.
The auction of 51,400 acres today is part of the U.S. Administration’s plans to open up wider areas for oil and gas drilling in the country—a campaign pledge that President Donald Trump has been following since taking office.
The auction includes areas that are near the boundaries of the former Bears Ears National Monument that President Trump modified at the end of 2017 to “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of important objects of historic and scientific interest.”
Local Utah officials welcome the lease sale as they believe that oil and gas extraction and mining could improve the economy of areas such as one of Utah’s poorest counties, San Juan.
“Oil and gas operations are an important contributor to a diversified county economy and the county supports leasing as a necessary step toward realizing economic benefits,” county planner Nick Sanberg said in comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as carried by Reuters.
Environmentalists, however, fiercely oppose the lease sale.
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Conservationists have protested the sale of 32 parcels out of the 43 proposed as being contrary to federal laws and regulations.
“We won’t sit idly by while President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke auction off America’s cultural and public lands heritage to the oil and gas industry,” Stephen Bloch, legal director with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said in a joint statement by several conservation groups issued on the eve of the lease sale. “This lease sale flies in the face of historic preservation and environmental laws that Congress put in place to make sure that BLM thinks before it acts; not ‘lease first, and think later,’” Bloch noted.
“BLM’s ‘lease everything, lease everywhere’ approach to oil and gas development needlessly threatens iconic red rock landscapes and irreplaceable cultural history in the ill-conceived push for ‘energy dominance,’” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Earlier this month, Secretary Ryan Zinke said the Department had decided to defer the oil and gas sale around Livingston, Montana, just days after deferring oil and gas lease sales near Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico, so that a more thorough study of the impact on cultural resources can be made.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.