Friday’s auction of public land oil and gas leases by BLM Utah was thrown into chaos by local activist Tim DeChristopher, who bid the prices up on parcels of land he has no intention of paying for.
“I thought I could be effective by making bids, driving up prices for others and winning some bids myself.” -DeChristopher
Bidding was halted for a time, and now buyers will have 10 days to reconsider and withdraw their bids. Kent Hoffman, deputy state director, BLM Utah, said, “He’s tainted the entire auction.”
According to the Deseret News, the FBI is questioning Tim DeChristopher of Salt Lake City, who drew complaints from other bidders as being unfamiliar and bidding in an unconventional manner. He has been released but is awaiting charges from the US Attorney’s office.
DeChristopher, a 27 year-old University of Utah economics student, won the bidding for 13 parcels, including 22,500 acres around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and succeeded in driving up the price of several other parcels. He now owes $1.7 million for all of his leases.
An attorney for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Stephen Bloch, said the incident was a disservice to, and a huge distraction from, the peaceful protest that took place outside the building.
116 parcels out of the 131 originally offered were sold. Some parcels were pulled from the sale after complaints from the National Park Service and environmental groups. Only about half of the 359,000 acres first proposed for auction were actually up for sale on Friday.