Lease of Protested BLM Land Brings in $6.3 Million

Lease of Protested BLM Land Brings in $6.3 Million

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Despite the opposition of environmental groups, all but two of 64 parcels of land offered by Utah Bureau of Land Management for lease to oil and gas drillers were claimed Wednesday, the first day they became available.

The leases brought in $6.3 million for the agency on 78,700 acres, said Don Banks, a spokesman with the agency's Salt Lake City office.

"This is one of the largest sales in recent history in Utah," Banks said. "This is a clear indication of market forces driving interest in oil and gas development."

Banks said a list of those who claimed the leases should be available Thursday.

The purchased parcels include 37 protested by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The group says 29 of the parcels were areas proposed for wilderness designation, and the rest were adjacent or close to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado.

The BLM owns land on the southern and western fringes of the monument. More than 180,000 acres of federal land in Utah and Colorado were offered for leases this month.

Preliminary figures show that 62 of 81 parcels offered in Colorado were leased at an auction last week, said Duane Spencer, branch chief of fluid minerals at the Colorado BLM state office.

Spencer said the Colorado land averaged $17.74 per acre at the sale, and brought in about $1.3 million.

Spencer said some of the leased land was near Dinosaur Monument. The remaining parcels were to be offered up in a noncompetitive bidding process, he said.

The Utah sale is not final, warned Steve Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Bloch's group, and others, filed protests against the leases earlier this month. The BLM has yet to respond -- a condition necessary before the sales are final, according to BLM rules.

"I don't know if I'm surprised, but I think we're disappointed that the BLM went ahead with the sale, and that it has not either responded to the protest or modified the parcels being offered," Bloch said. "Still, I expect we'll be successful in federal court."

Before that happens, the Interior Board of Land Appeals would try to mediate a settlement between the groups.

Banks said the Utah BLM would resolve the protests within the next 60 days.

Bloch's group and others filed a court challenge to last November's leasing of about 17,000 acres in Utah's Books Cliffs area, but the case has not yet been decided.

Bloch said proceedings are tied up over whether the case would be heard in Washington, D.C., or Salt Lake City.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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