Bogus bids bite the BLM

No doubt a few people — especially in Utah — are wondering how a 27-year-old college student with no apparent financial wherewithal was allowed to become a bidder at a BLM natural gas lease sale last Friday.

But Tim DeChristopher didn’t violate any law by joining in the bidding on the Utah leases.

Federal rules say bidding on oil and gas leases is open to any U.S. citizen over 21 or any group representing such citizens. There is no requirement that a bidder demonstrate any level of financial assets before bidding.

There is, however, a rule that successful bidders pay for the lease they’ve acquired, usually within 10 days. And that’s where DeChristopher’s antics may get him into trouble.

The BLM and the U.S. attorney can file legal actions and even get the IRS involved if he fails to pay.

DeChristopher won 10 bids totaling $1.8 million, for which he says he has neither the intention nor the money to pay. His sole intention was to disrupt the bidding process, and he succeeded. In addition to winning 10 parcels he drove up prices on many others.

The bidding Friday was controversial long before DeChristopher entered the picture. It was one of the last major gas-lease auctions of the Bush administration, and it originally included a number of parcels near national parks and monuments. The BLM dropped several such parcels from the bidding, following complaints from the National Park Service. But that didn’t satisfy environmental groups which, with the assistance of actor Robert Redford, filed suit to try to halt the leasing.

DeChristopher evidently considers himself a populist hero for his efforts Friday. But what he did wasn’t heroic. It was simply arrogant and thoughtless. Disagreement over a government decision is not a legitimate reason for dishonesty.

Here’s hoping the BLM goes after DeChristopher enthusiastically and forces him to pay with
whatever assets he has, to show others such behavior won’t be accepted.

The BLM is reportedly moving toward an online system of leasing in which it will be much more difficult for grandstanders, such as DeChristopher, to disrupt leases. All we can say is: Speed it up.


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