Keep It in the Ground: Idaho BLM Oil & Gas Lease Protest 2 Report


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 [6].  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.

Idaho activists believe that BLM and Homeland Security staff violated these Keep It in the Ground protesters’ U.S. Constitutional First Amendment rights of citizens to free speech as expressed through protest signs.  These negligent government stewards stifled one of the public’s last effective recourses to protecting shared federal lands and resources and human and environmental health and safety from looming harms imposed by irresponsible oil and gas industry profiteers.  As apparent in a WIRT and other videos of the livestreamed auction, federal officials and police also denied July 27 protesters equal protection of the laws granted by the Fourteenth Amendment, by allowing supportive, non-bidding attendees into the auction room, while discriminating against and blocking opponents from entrance, including one registered bidder [7].  Additionally, uniformed and undercover cops watched protesters on and near the BLM premises for hours before and after the demonstration and perhaps earlier.  In Colorado, local and federal police not only physically blocked 300 Keep It in the Ground protesters from building entrance to a BLM oil and gas lease auction, undercover agents also infiltrated and monitored protest planning and onsite staging efforts [8].

Earnest citizen observers of the auction in Boise speculated about the possibility of collusion and improprieties degrading auction procedures, as they could barely discern oral or physical indications of bids in the auction video.  As Bidder 1 in this auction, Payette County landowners the Kauffmans, from whose property drillers recently extracted oil, bought leases on the 400 private acres and 1,059 BLM acres of parcel A for $61 per acre, and on the 320 private acres and 690 BLM acres of parcel C for $106 per acre [6].  Bidder 2, presumably a front company for the Texas-based corporation dominating Idaho oil and gas development since 2012, Alta Mesa, purchased leases on the 440 private acres and 858 BLM acres of parcel B for $100 per acre, on the 998 private acres and 266 BLM acres of parcel D for $4 per acre, and on the 4,052 private acres and 160 BLM acres of parcels E, F, G, and H for $2 per acre.

For the 3,033 acres of Payette County federal public lands leased along with a majority of private acreage on July 27, the Kauffmans spent $137,739 to lease 1,749 BLM acres, and Bidder 2 paid $87,184 to lease 1,284 BLM acres.  After the auction, BLM staff and security stealthily escorted bidding and non-bidding participants out a back door, away from protesters.  During state negotiated rulemaking sessions in May through July 2016 at the Idaho Capitol, Idaho Department of Lands regulators of oil and gas development activities proposed a new rule enabling oil and gas lease auctions of state lands to be conducted online, perhaps in response to citizen protests [9].  Participants in the July 27 demonstration are continuing reviews and debriefing on the action, recommending more assertive, adaptive tactics, and planning ongoing protests of fossil fuel extraction and transportation throughout Idaho.

North Idaho WIRT activists would appreciate your online or mailed assistance with the $200 expense of traveling 1000-plus miles to participate in this second BLM oil and gas lease auction protest and to monitor Payette County gasland activities on July 27 [10].  On the next morning, Thursday, July 28, while returning from Boise after observing and photographing the bomb train loading facility for Payette County oil and gas condensate in Ontario, Oregon, we encountered a coincidental warning of the dangers of oil and gas development and use in Idaho.  A WIRT activist and scores of other travelers were blocked for two and a half hours near Smiths Ferry at Idaho Highway 55 mile marker 98, by a 200-gallon aviation fuel spill onto the roadway, next to the same Payette River that flows not far from uphill Big/Little Willow Creek gas and oil wells, about 75 miles downstream [11-13].  Approximately 20 northbound vehicles ahead at 6:30 am, an Ontario, Oregon teen had rolled a single-axle tanker trailer that disconnected after he overcorrected his pickup truck running off the road.  Idaho Transportation Department workers covered the spill with sand, and re-opened the northbound lane: The WIRT vehicle was one of the first dozen to drive over it.

Group Statements

Great Old Broads for Wilderness supports keeping fossil fuels in the ground.  Organizer Diane Jones said that, “It is our only chance to keep global temperatures and the Earth’s vital signs from reaching a tipping point.  Fossil fuel corporations must not be allowed to shift costs of climate disruption to society, while reaping profits from public lands.”

Casey Mattoon of the Idaho Sierra Club stated that, “Every new lease of public lands for oil and gas development is a step in the wrong direction – We should instead invest in clean, affordable, power resources that we can develop locally.  The dozens of activists who showed up demanded that public lands stop being leased for the extraction of fossil fuels, which puts our climate and communities at risk.”

Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability opposed the auction due to the profound risks that exploration, drilling activities, and supporting infrastructure present to the environment, vital water resources, and the health and safety of humans, livestock, and wildlife within the impact areas.  Shelley Brock of the group expressed that, “We are deeply concerned that the interests of oil and gas companies are being elevated over the rights and public access of tax-paying hunters, anglers, and recreationists, and that little to no protections are afforded to surface owners whose mortgages, property rights, and property values are threatened by the development of federally held minerals under their homes and farms.”

Helen Yost of Wild Idaho Rising Tide asserted that, “This liquidation of public assets to the fossil fuel industry could contaminate ground and surface water and agricultural lands, release toxic air pollution and greenhouse gases from flaring, venting, and processing, compromise public, wildlife, and environmental health and safety, and ultimately exacerbate ongoing climate chaos that challenges human survival.  The BLM should cancel the auction of all public lands for oil and gas leases, and expect increasing citizen resistance to such destructive development schemes.”

[1] Here’s a News Release from the Protest…, July 27, 2016 Jane Rohling facebook photos

[2] Keep It in the Ground Idaho BLM Oil & Gas Lease Protest 2 7-27-16, August 3, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide facebook photos

[3] Groups Protest BLM Oil and Gas Lease in SW Idaho, July 27, 2016 Public News Service

[4] Keep It in the Ground: Idaho BLM Oil & Gas Lease Protest 2, July 24, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[5] Keep It in the Ground: Idaho BLM Oil & Gas Lease Protest 2, July 24, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide facebook event

[6] Sheep Ridge Oil and Gas Lease Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA), March 21, 2016 Bureau of Land Management Idaho State Office

[7] At the July 27 BLM Oil and Gas Lease Auction in Boise…, July 30, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide facebook post

[8] Federal Agents Went Undercover to Spy on Anti-Fracking Movement, Emails Reveal, July 19, 2016 The Intercept

[9] Idaho Updates Rules for Oil and Gas Leasing, July 18, 2016 Idaho Statesman

[10] Donate to WIRT, Wild Idaho Rising Tide EverButton

[11] Teen Pulling Trailer of Aviation Fuel Crashes on Highway 55, July 28, 2016 Idaho Statesman

[12] 200 Gallons of Aviation Fuel Spill in Crash, July 28, 2016 Argus Observer

[13] Coincidental Warning…, July 29, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide facebook photos

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