Feds rake in $6 million from oil and gas lease auctions, including lands near Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument

Some parcels draw top dollar for Bureau of Land Management, while acreage in San Rafael Swell fails to attract minimum bids.

(Erin Alberty | Tribune file photo) Purple daisies blooming in Dinosaur National Monument’s Hog Canyon, as seen May 29, 2017. On Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management auctioned off 74 oil and gas leases on public lands in Utah, including four parcels within view of the Dinosaur’s Quarry Visitor Center.

The Bureau of Land Management raked in $6 million at its quarterly oil and gas auction Tuesday where it fielded bids on nearly 94,000 acres of public lands in Utah, including some controversial parcels near Dinosaur National Monument.

Several parcels covering about 40,000 acres, however, failed to attract acceptable minimum bids, including lands near Molen Reef, an area rich in ancient rock art in Emery County. Some parcels at Molen Reef, though, were later sold at a steep discount — without competitive bidding.

The Utah Rock Art Research Association and other groups strongly object to BLM’s decision to lease in the San Rafael Swell because the BLM has not completed an inventory, so it may not be able to manage development here in ways that won’t degrade archaeological resources.

Twice before, the energy industry “nominated” these and adjacent parcels for lease only to be turned down by the BLM’s former state directors. Joined by the trade group Western Energy Alliance, Castle Valley Holdings LLC unsuccessfully challenged this decision before the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

Now that the parcels finally came up for auction under the BLM’s current state director Ed Roberson, it seemed odd that Castle Valley declined to bid.

“It’s a waste of the BLM’s resources to go through all that rigamarole and get nothing for it,” said Landon Newell of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which had asked the BLM to not offer Molen Reef this time around

While the San Rafael leases failed to sell Tuesday, they are now available for purchase over the counter at the fire-sale price of $1.50 an acre. Three of them have sold so far in this manner, according to a BLM spokesman, including two near Molen Reef.

Environmental groups had challenged this latest round of leasing, targeting the BLM’s Vernal and Price field offices, arguing the agency should not make more federal lands available for drilling in the Uinta Basin until Utah gets a handle on the region’s high ozone levels. The persistent air-quality problem is attributed to oil and gas development.

In all, 49 of the 74 Utah parcels on the auction block drew the minimum bid of $2 an acre for the right to drill. Lonesome Oil & Gas, based in Fort Worth, Texas, was the biggest spender, running up the bidding past $2,000 an acre on one parcel in the Uinta Basin. It bought a nearby lease for $2.9 million. The parcels are just west of the Green River along State Route 88.

Four of the parcels sold Tuesday are within view of the Dinosaur’s Quarry Visitor Center, according to Jerry Otero, National Parks Conservation Association’s regional energy program director.

The group argues against leasing near national parks, which has become more common under President Donald Trump’s American “energy dominance” agenda that prioritizes oil, gas and coal production from public lands.

“The excessive industrial traffic that would result from development would negatively impact the region’s air quality, ultimately threatening local economies built on tourism to Dinosaur,” Otero said. “Visitors to Dinosaur look forward to experiencing the rugged landscape during the day and the breathtaking skies at night, both of which are threatened with any nearby development.”

Also this week, the BLM’s Nevada state office auctioned offered leases to 33,000 acres, including some parcels close to Great Basin National Park, near the Utah border. These 17 parcels all sold for the minimum $2-an-acre-bid.