SALT LAKE CITY — The Bureau of Land Management auctioned off 69 parcels of land for potential oil and gas development on Tuesday, netting more than $3.3 million.
The highest bid per parcel came from North American Helium at $435,591.
Oil and gas companies' proposals for development must first undergo an environmental review and meet the requirements of the agency for mitigation that includes air quality, impacts to wildlife habitat and cultural resources.
About 134,000 acres of the 200,000 acres were auctioned, which kicks off a 10-year timeframe in which the land should be producing oil or gas, or the lease must be rescinded.
Critics, who protested outside the downtown Salt Lake City BLM offices, say the parcels are too close to pristine and valued landscapes in Utah, including Canyonlands National Park and the Green River.
"The effect of oil and gas leasing near an area as pristine beautiful and important to the American West as Canyonlands National Park cannot be ignored," said Walt Dabney, a former superintendent of Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
"The confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers, vital sources of water for many Americans, have sculpted the area into canyons and buttes unparalleled and uniquely American in their value. To drill around these lands threatens the health of surrounding communities and forever diminishes a piece of America."
Groups also criticized the shortened time frame for public comment, a recent move by the U.S. Department Interior.5 comments on this story
"The new oil and gas lease process dramatically reduces opportunities for public comment and shrinks the period for public protest to less than two weeks. Opportunities for citizen engagement had already been lacking, with public outcry long overdue," said Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Utah Sierra Club.
The federal government receives a royalty of 12 1/2 percent of the value of production. Each state government receives a 25 percent minimum share of the bonus bid and the royalty revenue from each lease issued in that state.
According to the BLM, oil and gas on its managed lands in Utah contributed $1.7 billion to the economy and supported 9,171 jobs in fiscal year 2016.