BLM tries to prevent more phony bids for energy leases

After recent events in Utah, Bureau of Land Management officials are taking precautions against possible protesters posing as bidders at an upcoming oil and gas lease sale in Colorado.

“We’re fully aware of that situation that happened at Utah’s last sale. I think we’re about as well-prepared as we can be to forestall anything like that,” said Jim Sample, a spokesman at the BLM’s Colorado office.

The BLM’s quarterly Colorado lease sale is scheduled for Thursday.

In December, college student Tim DeChristopher attended a BLM lease sale in Utah for parcels near Arches and Canyonlands national parks with no intention of paying.

DeChristopher made $1.8 million in bids, winning some parcels and driving up bidding for others.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar since has scrapped that lease sale, but the federal government hasn’t ruled out criminal charges against DeChristopher.

The BLM is scheduled to auction oil and gas leases for 81,557 acres in Colorado. Nine groups and 45 individuals have protested at least portions of the leases to be auctioned off, and all of the acreage is covered by protests. The Colorado Division of Wildlife is among the protesters.

Sample said that, just as in the past, anyone will be allowed to walk in and observe the auction.

“But we’re definitely going to be on our toes,” he said. “We’ve got very tight procedures from the beginning.”

Bidders always have had to sign a statement saying they won’t knowingly or willingly make false statements to a federal agency, which is a federal offense. And they have had to acknowledge they are obligated to pay for winning bids, Sample said. Now they also must affirm that they have the means to make the payment, he said.

“I think we’re very well-prepared to be able to screen the potential buyers,” he said.

Mary Sellers owns the Sellmar Co., in Denver, which bids at oil and gas auctions on behalf of energy companies. She said it’s important to keep the Utah incident from being repeated.

“That type of thing shouldn’t have happened. It’s not fair to everyone else in the room bidding,” she said. “The industry has always been a good-old-boy network, as far as your handshake is your word. But what happened in Utah is something they’re going to have to prevent from happening.”


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