Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has sent Utah Senator Bob Bennett an offer to review the 77 suspended oil-and-gas lease parcels that have been the subject of much debate in the west and in Washington. The hotly-contested matter has come to a head with Bennett's procedural delay of Sec. Salazar's undersecretary choice who requires senate confirmation.
Several of the controversial tracts can be seen from Utah's Arches National Park
Earlier, Sec. Salazar had nominated David Hayes as undersecretary, whom Bennett has admitted is "very qualified." But the process was held up this week by three votes in cloture, ostensibly because Bennett wanted more information and justification on the lease cancellations. In his formal response to Bennett dated this past Tuesday, May 12, Sec. Salazar indicated that his office has recently facilitated ten oil and gas lease sites covering more than 1.5 million acres of public lands within the United States and an additional 1.7 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico.
There are approximately 20 million acres of (BLM) public lands within the state of Utah, and only 77 leases have been cancelled by the Dept. of the Interior because of their proximity to National Parks and other sensitive areas. This concerned Senator Bennett from an ideological point-of-view, with many Utah state legislators joining the chorus.
When cabinet appointments were made by the incoming Obama administration, one of Sec. Salazar's first actions involved suspending the lease offerings in Utah's controversial and sensitive areas. Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, enjoyed a confirmation that was virtually free of objection or delay. He inherited a controversy from day one on the job with the Department of the Interior, which includes the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.
At the time they were offered for oil and gas leases, the tracts in Utah evoked rapid response from National Park officials, who claimed that the Bureau of Land Management hadn't contacted them prior to making the listings. Then, the National Park Service’s top official in Utah called the leases “shocking and disturbing” and said his agency wasn’t properly notified. Environmentalists called it a “fire sale” for the oil and gas industry by the departing Bush administration accompanied by prior campaign chants of "Drill, baby, drill."
“We find it shocking and disturbing,” said Cordell Roy, the chief Park Service administrator in Utah. “They added 51,000 acres of tracts near Arches, Dinosaur and Canyonlands without telling us about it. That’s 40 tracts within four miles of these parks.” The leasing process had also been clouded by the actions of Tim DeChristopher, an environmentalist who joined the October, 2008 bidding for the questionable leases as a self-described "act of civil disobedience."