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Trump practically gives away energy rights near Utah monument

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Sarah Okeson
Sarah Okeson

Trump’s Bureau of Land Management is leasing land to oil and gas companies in parts of Utah rich with archaeological sites at fire-sale prices that haven’t been adjusted for inflation since 1987.

Anthropology professor Ruth Van Dyke, whose work was cited in protests of the Utah leases, visited sites in New Mexico on the Great North Road shortly after Trump was elected. She compared drilling near Ancestral Puebloan great houses on federal land to an industrial park.

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“Clearly, the BLM did not take indirect and cumulative effects of the oil and gas drilling into account,” wrote Van Dyke of Binghamton University.

Under Trump, Brian Steed, then the deputy director of policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management, slashed the already inadequate protections under former President Barack Obama.

BLM’s leasing has done nothing but promote lease speculation which certainly fails to benefit the American taxpayer.

Since January 2017, the number of leases BLM has put up for sale in Utah since is more than seven times what was offered during a similar timeframe under former President Barack Obama.

More than 394,000 acres in Utah have been leased for oil and gas development since Trump came to office, but legal challenges by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other environmental groups have forced the BLM to pull back about 240 leases covering about 300,000 acres to reanalyze greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts.

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Landon Newell, an attorney for the alliance, there are currently only four active drill rigs in Utah, down from about 50 a few years ago.

“BLM’s leasing has done nothing but promote lease speculation which certainly fails to benefit the American taxpayer,” Newell said.

Hidden Company Names

Companies can use lease brokers like Baseline Minerals Inc. to avoid publicly disclosing the identity of the actual companies leasing the land. Baseline Minerals bought 28 leases totaling about 46,436 acres in the March 2019 lease sale.

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The bureau leases land to oil and gas companies starting at $2 an acre, a figure that hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 1987. If no one bids on a parcel, it can be leased for $1.50 an acre.Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., calculated that our nation has lost about $64 million just in Utah over the last 10 fiscal years from rental rates that haven’t been adjusted for inflation.

December Sale

In the most recent lease sale, earlier in December, the bureau offered 24 parcels covering 13,422 acres. Sixteen parcels sold, seven of them for less than $10 an acre.

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The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other environmental organizations protested the December lease sale in part because of harm near the ancient village on Alkali Ridge near Blanding, Utah, and near the national monuments of BearsEars, Hovenweep and Canyon of the Ancients.

Thousands of archaeological sites in the area haven’t been documented.

“Each archaeological site is a one-of-a-kind record of some important happening,” said former Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones. “Every time we wreck one, we lose an important chapter from that human story.”

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