Activists disrupt Utah oil, gas auction

Environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams with her bidding number walks on the hallway of the Bureau of Land Management's Salt Lake City office. Oil and gas industry officials have said environmental writer Tempest Williams' bid on at least 800 acres is insignificant. Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 16, 2016 | Photo by Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah environmentalists hope their disruption of a federal oil-and-gas lease auction and the purchase of development rights on a small stretch of land by an author and activist bring attention to a nationwide push to halt fossil fuel extraction on Western lands. Meantime, the Bureau of Land Management posted a list of parcels proposed for auction for lease rights to oil and gas extraction.

But oil and gas industry officials say environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams’ bid on at least 800 acres is insignificant. And, they say the group’s refusal to stop singing that led them to be escorted from the Tuesday auction in Salt Lake City will give the industry fuel to push the BLM to hold online auctions in the future.

The events evoke memories of climate change activist Tim DeChristopher, who served 21 months in prison for sabotaging a 2008 Utah auction to thwart drilling near Utah’s national parks by bidding on $1.8 million of lands he couldn’t pay for.

But, Williams is not expected to face any consequences as long as she pays several thousand dollars she’ll owe for the rights.

Tempest Williams’ made her bid after nearly 100 protesters were escorted peacefully out of the auction when they refused to stop singing, said Bureau of Land Management spokesman Ryan Sutherland. There were no arrests or confrontations.

Holding signs that said, “Our lands, our future” and “#KeepItInTheGround,” they marched to the convention center and took their seats in the gallery before breaking into song with the refrain, “I hear the voice of my great granddaughters saying, keep it in the ground.”

Tempest Williams said she purchased the lease rights to shine a light on the negative effects of climate change. She is set to pay $1,600 for 800 acres near Arches National Monument, with several thousand more acres pending approval.

The author has a long history of advocating for protection of Utah’s wild spaces that includes supporting DeChristopher and being on stage with President Bill Clinton in 1996 when he announced he was protecting 2 million acres in southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

She bid on parcels that went unsold during the live auction, sending them into a non-competitive part of the sale where people submit bids at BLM offices. The agency will likely announce winners of those bids on Thursday, Sutherland said.

The lease gives her the right to look for and extract oil and gas, pending federal approvals.

She’s not saying exactly what she plans to do. But she plans to register a company in the name “Tempest Exploration.” She’ll be guided by striving for a livable future for all, she said.

“We are at a crossroads,” Williams said in a text message Wednesday. “We can continue on the path we are on that privileges profit over people and land, or we can unite as citizens with a common cause — the health and wealth of the earth that sustains us.”

Kathleen Sgamma of the oil industry trade group Western Energy Alliance, said Williams will be wasting her money since there was no interest in the land and the lease doesn’t give her ownership.

“It was clearly a rather childish attempt to stop a public process,” Sgamma said. “It’s not like she stopped a company from operating there. I think she might be a little bit confused what an oil and gas lease is.”

Sgamma said Tuesday’s events illustrate why BLM should switch to online auctions.

The BLM in Utah had to cancel an auction scheduled for November after they realized they didn’t have a big enough room to accommodate protesters who wanted to watch. The agency is proceeding with traditional auctions in Utah, with the next one set for May, while leaving a decision about online auctions to headquarters in Washington D.C., Sutherland said.

The auction in May will include four proposed parcels covering approximately 6,700 acres in Sevier County. Hard copies of the sale notice may be obtained in person from the BLM-Utah State Office Public Room. The location of the sale will be announced by Information Notice posted in the Utah State Office Business Information Center (Public Room) and online on March 28.

Climate change activists plan to continue to protest auctions in an attempt to persuade President Barack Obama to halt leases for fossil fuel extraction, said Lauren Wood of the Living Rivers group in Utah.

“There are lots of concerned citizens that don’t want to see landscapes ruined,” Wood said. “It will only grow in momentum from here.”

Written protests of the leases are currently being accepted and will be accepted until March 14. Protests should be as specific as possible. Those which contain only opinions or preferences will not receive a formal response, but may be considered in the BLM decision-making process.

Protests may be mailed to the BLM-Utah State Office at 440 West 200 South, Suite 500, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, or faxed to the attention of Sheri Wysong at 801-539-4237.

Before including an address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in any comments, be aware that the entire comment – including personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. Requests to withhold personal identifying information from public review can be submitted, but the BLM cannot guarantee that it will be able to do so.

Brady McCombs and Michelle L. Price from the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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3 Comments

  • BIG GUY February 22, 2016 at 9:07 am

    What climate change are they protesting? Temperatures have remained essentially flat for the last 16 years, a fact that no climate model can explain. Not one. Meanwhile carbon dioxide levels have increased 25% during the same interval. Therefore the models are wrong and only fools would take drastic action impacting the world economy based on them. Temperatures in 2015 were likely up some due to El Nino, just as the last El Nino year, 1998, was a peak year, but I’ll wager even money that they’ll be back down in a few years.

    Global warmism is a religion since it is based on faith in demonstrably erroneous models and is not subject to objective proof.

    • Real Life February 22, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      Get your head out of your you know what. Climate change is real. Glaciers are rising, polar ice caps are melting. FACT. There are many locals here who share in your twisted ideals. Is it just a church thing? A conservative talk show hosts’ influence? What is it? You can have the INTELLIGENT conversation that it is not a man made phenomenon, and so called carbon credits are politically motivated. But to just simply just say the climate is not changing is beyond ignorance.

      • .... February 23, 2016 at 4:55 am

        There is no climate change its all in your head !

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