You'll rarely see me dive into politics on this blog, but sometimes, I just gotta stand up and applaud. On Friday, December 19th, the BLM kicked off a hotly disputed oil- and gas-lease auction of public lands in Southern Utah near Arches, the White River, the Desolation/Green River region, Canyonlands, Nine Mile Canyon, the Book Cliffs, and Deep Creek Mountains.
Unlike the salvo of "mignight regulations" the administration has been passing to neuter Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, this lease review was part of a longer term BLM (appointee) effort to shoehorn last-minute leases in before the administration leaves office. In other ways, it was typical of 'midnight regulation' tactics: The auction was announced on election day to hide the move behind bigger headlines. The Bush administration is on track to create far more 'midnight regulations' than any other administration in history. Many of these were quietly instituted 30 to 60 days ago, meaning they cannot be undone by the incoming Obama administration without considerable obstacles. Despite efforts to keep the brouhaha down-low, widespread public dismay over the lease auction dropped the original acreage from 360,000 acres to 149,000 acres.
On auction day, about 200 protesters arrived at the BLM office in Salt Lake to show their displeasure, doing the usual sign waving and street theater. But one of them stepped up and went further. University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher (27) registered as a buyer and successfully bid on 10 lease parcels worth $1.8 million without having the money or any intention of buying or developing them, thus driving up the price on numerous leases, and tossing a monkeywrench into the ten leases he received.
Now we all drive cars, wear synthetic fabrics, and heat our homes, so petroleum exploration will be with us for the forseeable future. But to anyone who's spent much time outdoors in the West, the drilling land rush has been alarming. While oil and gas leases involve more regulations and royalties than hard rock mining (when those royalties are paid anyway), anyone who visits drilling hotbeds quickly realizes that remote sites bear little resemblance to the industry's squeaky PR campaigns, or sparkling clean roadside rigs. And published acreage figures never include roads, pipelines or collection tank stats. IMO, much of this is far from 'responsible use.'
Tim DeChristopher took direct action, and made a very bold statement using no violence or property destruction. In doing so he put himself at considerable personal risk. And there is no heroism without risk. So Tim DeChristopher is my new hero.
Now, a small but vocal and powerful minority is demanding that he be legally crucified (unlike the companies who have systematically underpaid billions in lease revenues). He'll probably need a legal defense fund. If so, and I find out where to donate, I'll publish it here.
Hike safe readers. And enjoy your upcoming holidays. -- Steve Howe