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Home arrowNews arrowACHP Announces GAO Report Calling for Improved Data on Historic Properties

Judge Supports BLM Leasing Decision in Utah

Consistent with the requirements of the Section 106 review process, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has long advocated that federal land managing agencies give serious consideration to historic preservation values as part of their deliberations on approving land use leases, particularly for gas and oil development. A recent decision by the Interior Board of Land Appeals regarding leasing decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reinforces the importance of this requirement.

The BLM in Utah declined to sell some gas and oil leases based in part on potential impacts on historic properties. Upon appeal by the potential leaseholder, the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) upheld BLM’s decision. Rulings that reinforce an agency giving such weight and consideration to historic preservation values at this stage of federal decision making are worth noting and underscore the importance of Section 106 stakeholders actively engaging on the value of these resources at this stage of federal decision making. An article pertaining to this decision is provided below. For questions regarding this decision, feel free to contact Caroline Hall

Interior rejects industry challenge to Utah lease sale

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, August 6, 2014

An Interior Department administrative judge has rejected an oil and gas industry challenge to the Bureau of Land Management's eleventh-hour decision last November to withdraw roughly 100,000 acres from a Utah oil and gas lease sale.

The Interior Board of Land Appeals ruling said BLM is under no obligation to sell every parcel that it lists in its oil and gas lease sale notices and that the lease deferral was not an "appealable decision."

The ruling is a victory for archaeological preservationists and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which had warned that BLM's Nov. 19, 2013, sale threatened ancient rock art sites and wilderness-quality lands on the San Rafael Swell.

"We're pleased that industry's appeal has been rejected," said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the SUWA. "BLM made the right decision not to offer these wild and culturally rich public lands in the Utah's remarkable San Rafael Swell for oil and gas leasing and development."

Bloch warned that the leases would have allowed drilling on more than 80,000 acres of proposed wilderness, most of which BLM has acknowledged contain wilderness characteristics.

The IBLA ruling was a defeat for the Western Energy Alliance and its member company Castle Valley Holdings LLC, which had filed an appeal in January challenging the lease withdrawal. They argued that BLM had illegally deferred 57 parcels at the behest of the Utah Rock Art Research Association, despite the fact that the art group missed the deadline to file a protest and had not submitted earlier comments on the lease plan.

WEA also argued that BLM's decision to yank the leases five days ahead of the auction cost its member companies $500,000 in wasted investments.

Much of the Utah leasing controversy surrounds the management of lands BLM has deemed wilderness-quality, but for which it did not designate wilderness protections under a 1976 law. In contrast with wilderness study areas, BLM is under no legal obligation to manage wilderness-quality lands in their roadless state.

Before the leases were withdrawn, BLM had argued that much of the San Rafael Swell parcels was adjacent to existing leases or development.

But BLM later deferred the parcels, saying it wanted to address lingering concerns involving cultural resources, sensitive species and potential impacts to the Old Spanish Trail (E&ENews PM, Nov. 15, 2013).

The decision drew strong criticism from Utah's congressional delegation, which warned it sent a negative signal to companies interested in drilling on public lands.

Twitter: @philipataylor | Email:

Posted August 17, 2014