Report Faults Bush Officials Over Utah Land Auction

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 2009; 6:32 PM

A new report from the Department of the Interior says that Bush administration officials did not follow longstanding practices when they auctioned off 77 parcels of Utah land for oil and gas drilling while keeping the National Park Service in the dark about potential drilling near park land.

The report, issued today, does not say what should be done with those 77 parcels for which drilling rights were sold in December, then taken back by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in February. It says that some of them should not be used for drilling but calls for the Bureau of Land Management to figure out exactly which.

"It is clear that in the rush to sell the leases, the previous Administration bypassed normal reviews and consultations with the National Park Service," Salazar said in a written statement released by the Interior Department.

The leases, which total about 110,000 acres, are located near such treasured areas as Nine Mile Canyon, Arches National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. The Bush administration sold them at auction on December 19, raising $6 million.

Today's report said that this process began as usual: the Bureau of Land Management last fall told the Park Service that it planned to sell drilling rights to 79 pieces of federal land. But then, without giving the customary warning to the Park Service, the report says that the Bureau of Land Management expanded the auction to 241 parcels, including many near parks.

The park service found out later, and its objections led the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw some of the most sensitive areas, a bureau official said. In all, 131 parcels were sold.

Environmental groups objected to 77 sales, and on January 17, a federal judge halted issuance of the leases. Several weeks later, Salazar -- an appointee of President Obama -- cancelled those leases altogether, but the bureau must now decide whether any could auctioned anew.

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