US to auction record oil and gas leases in Utah

Jun 25, 2004 02:00 AM

In the Bush administration's continuing push to boost domestic energy production, the government plans to auction oil and gas leases on a record 281,000 acres of public lands in Utah. More than 10 % of those lands are within proposed wilderness areas, such as the Dirty Devil region of the San Rafael Desert, prompting opposition from a coalition of environmental groups and their congressional champion.
"The Bush administration is once again giving a gift to the oil and gas industry while doing irreparable damage to the environment," said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, sponsor of America's Redrock Wilderness Act, a bill that would set aside 9.1 mm acres of the 22 mm managed in Utah by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Hinchey said he had asked the BLM not to offer leases in lands proposed in the bill, fearing development could disqualify the areas, which by the federal definition of wilderness must be virtually untouched by man. But the BLM apparently dismissed Hinchey's plea, opting to put at least 30,000 acres of potential wilderness on the auction block.
The auction is part of a quarterly oil and gas lease sale held by the BLM to satisfy part of its mission to help exploit natural resources on the public lands. Kent Hoffman, who directs the BLM's minerals program in Utah, said the lease sale -- which is bigger than the three previous quarterly sales combined -- will help satisfy a record number of acreage nominated for leasing by the oil and gas industry.

Although the sale is the largest in Utah history, nearly 128,000 of the nominated acres were deferred to the next quarterly lease sale, scheduled for September. Hoffman also refused to put up for auction about 43,000 acres of lands in the Book Cliffs that have been found to possess wilderness characteristics.
About two-thirds of the lands offered in the sale are in Juab, Millard, Sanpete and Sevier counties, where little oil and gas exploration has occurred in the past. Hoffman said the large lease sale indicates the state is moving into an energy "boom" cycle, thanks largely to rising prices for natural gas.

Currently, Utah's public lands produce about 138 bn cf of gas each year, enough to supply about 90 % of the state's needs. The energy-producing public lands, most of them in the Uinta Basin and in San Juan County, also yielded about 4 mm barrels of oil last year -- enough to meet about 8 % of Utah's demand.
Although the Bush administration has argued that increased domestic production will help wean the United States from foreign oil, exploiting Utah's public lands might have little impact. According to state and federal energy statistics, all of the oil produced in Utah last year on public lands would satisfy US demand for 40 seconds. Domestic energy production, however, does benefit state and local governments, which reap a 12 % royalty from oil and gas receipts.

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune
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