A new analysis by an association representing oil and gas producers asserts the Department of the Interior thwarted the public process and "second-guessed" its own land managers when it yanked bids on oil and gas parcels sold at a controversial auction in Salt Lake City last December.
Despite "aggressive" environmental protections included in the Bureau of Land Management's Resource Management Plans, the Interior Department recommended eight leases for removal and 52 leases for deferral, disregarding scientific evidence and input from Utah stakeholders, according to the association.
"It's a sad day when politics trumps the expertise of professional land managers and the hard work of citizens to develop economic and resource-development plans that the community has embraced," said Kathleen Sgamma, Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States spokeswoman. "If you're not listening to your land managers and the public, who are you listening to?"
The report, released Thursday, is the latest in a series of volleys fired back and forth among environmentalists, the oil and gas industry and the Interior Department on the heels of the auction that was marred by protests and the arrest of activist Timothy DeChristopher.
Two months after the auction, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pulled all 77 leases, saying they had been put on the table after a rushed "midnight" decision in the waning hours of the Bush administration.
He later sent a hand-picked team led by Forest Supervisor Mike Stiles to Utah to conduct a review of the appropriateness of the leases offered at auction.
As a result of that review, Salazar removed eight parcels from consideration and put 52 more under additional review.
The petroleum association's 66-page analysis of Stiles' report found "no evidence" to support the resulting Interior Department decision and said Salazar showed a "lack of regard" for the seven-year public planning process that produced the Resource Management Plans.
Specific information for each parcel, location details, wilderness status and lease stipulations contained in the management plans are contained in the report, as well as a summary of why the association believes the parcel is appropriate for leasing.
One of the parcels, for example, was described as 160 acres with a western boundary located 4.5 miles from Canyonlands National Park, with existing state and federal leases between it and the park. The environmental protections mandated in the lease stipulation include air quality, paleontological resources and mitigation of impacts to endangered or threatened species such as the Mexican spotted owl.
"Based on this analysis, (the petroleum association) believes the 60 leases were legitimately sold at the December 2008 sale and should be reinstated to the winning bidders," the report said.