In 1987, Congress passed the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, which established a competitive bidding process for oil and gas leases on public lands. The Act dictated procedures for both conducting auctions, as well as requirements for those engaged in the bidding process. But I can almost guarantee that those who penned the original law or the implementing regulations never imagined they’d be violated by the likes of Tim DeChristopher.
Photo from Klearchos. Some rights reserved.
More than two years ago, environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was hauled out of a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction in Salt Lake City after registering to bid and subsequently attempting to drive up prices on parcels of beautiful federal land that were being rushed through the auction process by the Bush administration. DeChristopher left the auction that day having won more than 20,000 acres of land.
DeChristopher was charged with (and later found guilty of) two violations of federal law: one count of violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, and one count of making a false statement when he completed and signed his “Bidder Registration Form.”
A quick review of the original indictment (which seems to have been scanned hastily and may be missing some content) shows the specific provision of the Act that DeChristopher was charged with violating. Subsection (a)(1) under 30 USC Sec. 195, “Enforcement,” reads as follows:
It shall be unlawful for any person:
(1) to organize or participate in any scheme, arrangement, plan, or agreement to circumvent or defeat the provisions of this chapter or its implementing regulations
The chapter it refers to, of course, is 30 USC Chapter 3A, “Leases and Prospecting Permits,” the codification of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act. The establishment of the competitive bidding process can be found in 30 USC Sec. 226, and the more detailed implementing regulations are over in 43 CFR Part 3120.
Violation of 30 USC 195(a)(1) is punishable by 30 USC 195(b), which reads:
Any person who knowingly violates the provisions of subsection
(a) of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500,000, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
DeChristopher’s sentencing has been set for June 23, 2011. For the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act violation together with the false statement conviction, he faces up to ten years of jail time.
The BLM, who hosted the auction, and parent agency DOI have been quiet on the matter. The only public reference to DeChristopher I found was in a February 2009 teleconference, in which Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar affirmed several times that he would not, and could not, comment on the case.
On the DOI’s website, you can, however, find both the sale results and the subsequent parcels withdrawn from the controversial auction. The details of DeChristopher’s purchased parcels are listed in both documents.
77 of the 130 parcels of land up for auction that day were eventually withdrawn. In the abovementioned teleconference, Secretary Salazar stated,
“In it’s [sic] last week in office the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation’s icons, some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes and did so particularly in Utah… The 77 parcels that the Bush administration offered on the doorstep of our national treasures in Utah raised some very important questions… Because of the need to review these parcels and because of their proximity to landscapes of national significance, I have directed the Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bids on the 77 parcels.”
Whether or not the bids would have been withdrawn under the Obama administration without the scrutiny from the DeChristopher case is hard to say. But one likes to think that, despite his conviction, DeChristopher prevailed.
For the full story on DeChristopher, I recommend this recent interview on Democracy Now. You can also follow the case at www.PeacefulUprising.org.