Idaho Activists Stage ‘Keep It in the Ground’ Protest of BLM Oil & Gas Lease Auction
Thanks to the 25 protesters of the second Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas leases of public lands and resources in Payette County on Wednesday morning, July 27 [1-5]! Some journeying hundreds of miles across Idaho, enthusiastic participants from five groups – Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Idaho Chapter Sierra Club, Idaho Residents Against Gas Extraction, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide – met at 8 am MDT near the intersection of West Overland Road and South Vinnell Way in Boise, then held a climate justice rally with signs and banners outside the BLM Idaho State Office. Along with Payette County residents, many of the involved activists have been objecting to oil and gas development in the Treasure Valley since 2010, and confronting previous state and federal oil and gas lease auctions since April 2013. The Boise channel 2 television station, KBOI, sent a cameraman/reporter to the five-group protest of the BLM auction; organizers have requested footage of the resulting brief coverage during the July 27 evening news.
This public demonstration joined similar Keep It in the Ground rallies in Lakewood, Colorado, Reno, Nevada, Roswell, New Mexico, and Salt Lake City, Utah, as part of a growing national movement urging President Obama to expand his climate legacy and stop all new oil and gas leases on public lands, as he did with coal leases. With their peaceful civil disobedience in Boise, concerned Idaho citizens sought to halt the BLM sale of leases on 9,242 acres of Sheep Ridge lands near producing and plugged oil and gas wells around Big Willow Creek, seven miles north of New Plymouth, Idaho . They contributed toward a courageous display of public resistance to Payette County oil and gas invasions, while demanding the end of fossil fuel leases to dangerous extractive industries on federal lands in beautiful Idaho and across the West.
With “soft” cloth signs and banners created to avert the BLM restriction on “hard” protest signs allowed in the building, the protesters were shocked and disappointed to learn during the initial rally that this auction of oil and gas leases of public lands did not welcome the public. The BLM planned to bar citizens from the bidding process in the Sagebrush Conference Room, and had prepared a separate, monitored room for viewing of livestreamed video coverage of the auction. So the protesters circled and organized their tactics on the lawn outside the federal building hosting the BLM, other federal land management agencies, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Most of the protesters who entered the BLM office suite presented photo identification and signed in as visitors of the auction and action. Dozens of them occupied the observation room, while bidders and others arrived in the nearby lobby and signed in to the auction that began at 9 am. A subversive group of auction opponents unfurled their soft signs saying “Keep It in the Ground” and stood together for photos in front of the closed circuit televisions. During the 45-minute auction that concluded with the auctioneer’s quip “Thanks for playing,” the protesters watched and took notes, photos, and videos of the BLM auctioning off eight leases for fossil fuel extraction from thousands of acres of public and private lands, for as little as $2 per acre from only two bidders.
Resisting being shunted to a room for protesters with livestreamed auction videos, two activists endured physical and verbal bullying by Idaho BLM personnel and Homeland Security officers, while they persisted in bringing hard protest signs into the building and seeking admission to the auction room. A particularly aggressive Homeland Security officer initiated close-range shouting matches and roughly pushed on a Boise protester’s body and camera several times, even forcing her backwards through glass doors, and took and folded her protest sign. One female BLM staff member also yelled at the same participant, before emotionally walking out of the building. A Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) activist, insisting on her First Amendment rights to carry a “No Oil and Gas on Public Lands” protest sign into the bidding room, registered at 8:50 am as Bidder 3 to “observe and protest a public proceeding,” and received a bidder ID badge and orange paper paddle. After a brief huddle among BLM and security personnel, they allowed hard protest signs and cameras into the lobby and video observation room, and returned the Boise protester’s bent sign. But they continued to physically block Bidder 3’s entrance to the auction until past the start of bidding, citing past, militant, right-wing demonstrations as the basis of their fear and increased security around public actions at federal buildings. Continue reading