A New Monkey Wrench Gang Disrupts BLM Auction

With a plot that would have done old Ed Abbey proud, a college student managed single-handedly to disrupt the BLM oil and gas lease auction sufficiently to prevent some parcels from being sold at all, and running up the prices for others.

An act of civil disobedience without any destruction being done. Clever and well-executed.

Tim DeChristopher, 27, faces possible federal charges after winning bids totaling about $1.8 million on more than 10 lease parcels that he admits he has neither the intention nor the money to buy — and he’s not sorry.

“I decided I could be much more effective by an act of civil disobedience,” he said during an impromptu streetside news conference during an afternoon blizzard. “There comes a time to take a stand.”

The Sugar House resident — questioned and released after disrupting a U.S. Bureau of Land Management lease auction of 149,000 acres of public land in scenic southern and eastern Utah — said he came to the BLM’s state office in Salt Lake City to join about 200 other activists in a peaceful protest outside the building Friday morning. But then he registered with the BLM as representing himself and went to the auction room.

There, he thought about the times he has marched, fired off letters to his congressmen, signed petitions and supported environmental organizations — all to no avail.

“What the environmental movement has been doing for the past 20 years hasn’t worked,” DeChristopher said. “It’s time for a conflict. There’s a lot at stake.” [snip]

BLM official Terry Catlin said the agency didn’t want to reopen the bidding on the parcels DeChristopher snagged unless all interested parties were able to compete for the leases. That means the parcels won’t be available again until at least February — after Obama takes office — during the next scheduled auction.

DeChristopher, who acknowledged upping other bids by about $500,000, said he would be willing to go to jail to defend his generation’s prospects in light of global climate disruption and other environmental threats.

“If that’s what it takes,” he said.

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  1. #1 by Cliff on December 20, 2008 - 11:59 am

    I spoke with Tim yesterday. We need to find him a pro-bono lawyer. The case will probably stall given the transition to the ‘baministration’

  2. #2 by Richard Warnick on December 20, 2008 - 12:21 pm

    Amazingly, according to the SLT article DeChristopher just came for the demonstration outside, and then decided to enter the auction on the spur of the moment.

    It’s incredible he got away with it. I tried something like this on a much smaller scale a few years ago when Utah DWR had a lottery for hunting licenses on sandhill cranes. Not being a known hunter, my application was rejected.

  3. #3 by Becky on December 20, 2008 - 12:23 pm

    The only lawyers I know have taken a lot of my money–I doubt pro bono is in their vocabulary. Maybe a reader here knows of a lawyer desirous of what is sure to be a high-profile case.

    I am awestruck at the courage Tim showed to carry this out. It was so simple and brilliant.

  4. #4 by Becky on December 20, 2008 - 12:24 pm

    By the way, what law did he break? Anyone know?

  5. #5 by Moribund Republic on December 20, 2008 - 12:46 pm

    He will held liable for civil damages at least. The criminal part is not having the money to purchase the leases. False representation involving sums of money over a certain amount, is a felony. If you are screwing with the BLM it is a Federal felony.

  6. #6 by Moribund Republic on December 20, 2008 - 12:52 pm

    He will trouble escaping the vindictive clutches of the no doubt oil/energy sponsored lawyers that will make his life a living hell in civil court…,

    they wish to ah, uh, “discourage” any actions like this in the future.

    The leases will be sold, the Fed is debt up to its neck, the only saving grace is that energy prices have fallen so much as to stop the actions in the near term.

    However, for any of you that do not understand, the deals being made are land grabs. Once a investor has physical property permanently on government land, they hold an interest that must be dealt with before any changes can be made. In other words, for their investment, the energy company “owns” a portion of the public lands.

    Ultimately the gas industry etc is going for the land grab, and doing very well at it I might add.

    Poor Tim will find out the hard way.

  7. #7 by Cliff Lyon on December 20, 2008 - 12:54 pm

    There are probably some auction rules about being able to back your bids. Someone should look up the rules.

  8. #8 by Moribund Republic on December 20, 2008 - 12:59 pm

    Cliff the rules in general guiding this activity would be Federal in nature, but very likely fall under the same rules as the UCC, Uniform Commercial Code Laws.

  9. #9 by Moribund Republic on December 20, 2008 - 1:08 pm

    The description of what became of the ELF floks just a bit too much at this moment in my unpublished post?

    Very understandable. After working a short term in the gas fields in CO, I can tell you there is nothing this industry says it will do, that it will do, nor will they spare any expense to dispose of enemies.

    They dispose of contaminated pad soil in Utah. They remediate the area, then leave. Entire work areas fouled and then scoured up and shipped off to Utah. Only because they have to, and are made to, grumbling all the way.

    If you have any real plans to help this young man, better get on it, play the campaign in the media, he is toast in court, and could be made an example of. The more people see what he did the better. He needs to be on Leno.

  10. #10 by Jessica on December 20, 2008 - 1:55 pm

    Thank you Tim. You are a rare and wonderful creature.

    If only there had been 20 Tims down there doing what you did, it would have prevented any leases from being auctioned because Obama I HOPE, will stop a re-auction in February.

    You ROCK!

  11. #11 by gyp on December 20, 2008 - 7:11 pm

    “he is toast in court”

    Well that’s just the tired problem everywhere, now, isn’t it…

    Change WE can and change WE better…

    i am so tired of our powerless bs and all the harm left done on account of it

    Any authority, individual or otherwise, who damages DeChristopher on account of this noble action ought be stripped of office by some other power.

    Is there one?

  12. #12 by gyp on December 20, 2008 - 7:38 pm

    $1.8 million, what is that, anyway, 2 or 3 subprimes nobody’s living in anyway? Just a couple of quitclaims and the bill is paid.

    I realize it’s probly not quite that simple but I like the idea

  13. #13 by Krista Bowers on December 20, 2008 - 8:12 pm

    I say we start a campaign to raise the money to pay for the leases. If they are paid for it would be much harder for the prosecution to be as hard on him.

  14. #14 by Moribund Republic on December 20, 2008 - 11:47 pm

    Gyp, the law being what it is, and Federal court often being decided by a judge(s) not necessarily a jury, DeChristopher is on record for his deeds and has admitted his guilt.

    If you can make a mitigating circumstances argument, that might become relevant in sentencing, but his guilt is undeniable in his own words. He misrepresented himself, and caused people engaged in a “legal” activity, sponsored by the Federal government “harm”.

    The energy companies misrepresent themselves all day, but when you basically own the venue….and the yappers in congress, with a favorable pres…

    If he gets a jury trial there is always jury nullification, but that often leads to a mistrial.

    Powerlessness. Who will stop the rigs when they move in? The Roan Plateau is drilled here in CO. The gnashing of teeth has gone on for 7 years now. The slowdown comes with the drop in gas prices. BTW, the toxic messes they create there are collected and shipped to Utah. To be remediated of course. Safe as houses you see.

    Read about what the Ijaw tribesmen did in the Niger delta when they could not get the government and oil companies to listen to their environmental concerns. They didn’t petition with paper to put it mildly.

  15. #15 by Leo Brown on December 21, 2008 - 8:22 am

    One legal strategy would be to get a lot more publicity (not much out there yet outside of Utah) and ask for a pardon from the new president.

    It helps that oil is at a four and a half year low, having dropped $100 a barrel since its recent high.

  16. #16 by Moribund Republic on December 21, 2008 - 2:23 pm

    Don’t pardons come at the end of a presidency Leo?

    Don’t allude to Obama’s short tenure yet, he isn’t even in office.

  17. #17 by Leo Brown on December 21, 2008 - 9:33 pm

    Presidential pardons can be issued at any time during the President’s term, even on day one. Tim isn’t in a position to repay the pardon with a big donation to a presidential library anyway, but his relative lack of financial assets also makes a civil suit against him rather pointless.

    I saw elsewhere on this blog that Democracy Now would like to take up Tim’s story, which will help with the publicity. The idea is to try the case in the court of public opinion.

  18. #18 by Moribund Republic on December 21, 2008 - 10:13 pm

    The civil suit isn’t pointless, it will force him into court and then any financial judgment can follow him around. Keep in mind what industry we are dealing with. If donations are up then he may well pay the energy companies out of that. Donate away people, just be wondering who will win, the lawyers and the bidders?

    Presidents don’t like to set the tone for pardons so early in their term. Have to let them pile up and sift through them to see which ones garnish the most payback.

    What extenuating circumstance would leave Tim not guilty? Hard to see straight up.

    The point about publicity is key. We can now see what way the media will turn. Will he be ignored, or will he be labeled? Should tell us all we need to know about the orientation of the mainstream media in the coming months.

  19. #19 by Leo Brown on December 21, 2008 - 10:39 pm

    If Tim gets hit with a heavy financial judgment, he can just declare bankruptcy. Why would a corporation spend more on legal fees than Tim’s presumably modest assets are worth? It would also be a public relations problem. Think David vs. Goliath. How many people love the oil companies these days? It is only the criminal case that should be of concern.

    Tim’s guilt in the criminal case is not an issue with a pardon. He can confess and still be pardoned. That would be a strong statement on environmental and energy priorities. The payback won’t be from Tim personally, but from the environmental movement. Also, it would be payback for the late-term executive orders of the Bush administration designed to pre-empt the policies incoming administration.

    • #20 by Becky on December 21, 2008 - 10:52 pm

      Leo, your comments re financial judgment make sense, and I too worry most about the criminal case. A question came up in an earlier comment regarding pardons. I’ll restate it. Pardons are normally saved for the end of the presidential term. Could/would Obama issue a pardon early in his term?

      I love reading all these supportive comments! Keep them coming everyone. Spread the word.

  20. #21 by Leo Brown on December 21, 2008 - 11:00 pm

    As I understand it, the President’s pardon power is very broad. You will recall that Bush pardoned Scooter Libby in the middle of his term. Ford pardoned Nixon at the start of his term. Carter issued an amnesty for Vietnam era war resisters early in his term. There may be a political price to pay, but that depends on the court of public opinion.

  21. #22 by Moribund Republic on December 21, 2008 - 11:06 pm

    Just declare bankruptcy… simple enough, but with its consequences. If he has a fund set to defend him, that could be considered an attachable asset. So until it runs dry, that money could be accessible by those he has “harmed”. An “example” may be what they want.

    As in most cases in today’s America, we could find public opinion divided on this issue.

    I would direct you to the outcomes of the ELF trials and what became of the people involved. This isn’t Tim, but the elements he is opposing and “harming” are well funded and fully able to defend themselves with extreme prejudice.

    Having just seen my punitive settlement from the Exxon Valdez disaster, I know this to be true. 20 years, and 25% of what was expected. The oil majors play for keeps.

    I find his actions cunning and fearless, and they have no doubt hit a nerve in the industry. What I mean to point out is that the road to defend Tim may be full of potholes.

    Outside of SLC Leo, the oil biz is rather well loved, especially in your state. It is making many people, a lot of money that have never had such an opportunity. Read center right middle class. I just spent some time working in it, and to be sure it is a bloody mess, but people working in it making money are either unaware, or just don’t care.

    Who is going to pardon him Obama? I would not want to count on that. He has troubles enough to keep him busy.

  22. #23 by Moribund Republic on December 21, 2008 - 11:15 pm

    Tim isn’t being pardoned by his vice president.

    Vietnam pardons happened years after the desertions occurred.

    Bush pardoning Libby is due to his being a good soldier, for him. Taking the hit so to speak.

    Maybe Tim and Obama have to meet. With all that is happening, the slate could be rather full.

    He did the deed as civil disobedience, knowing the possible consequences, now it plays out. In the criminal case the he could be simply put on probation depending on the sentence from the judge. Hope he gets a favorable one.

  23. #24 by Anonymous on December 22, 2008 - 12:29 am

    We get to find a way to cover this, since our taxes and “representives” WON’T!!! Those funds are to busy bailing out “w” type CEO’s! As a person born in Utah, I am disgusted that our HOME is being DESTROYED for OIL?!? IT IS NOT A WASTELAND! I LOVE IT! IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL TO ME AND OTHERS I KNOW! Don’t let them get away with this this. HELP TIM FULLFILL THE PURCHASE, BE A PATRIOT, A REAL PATRIOT!

  24. #25 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 7:14 am

    Agreed, the only thing to do is buy the leases, absolves the crimes, and makes the run ups part of the process, thereby legal.

    Let’s make Tim the most unproductive oilman since George W. Bush.

  25. #26 by Leo Brown on December 22, 2008 - 8:18 am

    The “harm” is this case is the delay of the leases by about a month, peanuts compared to the sharp drop in the price of oil lately. Why should an oil company risk bad publicity over insisting on drilling just outside a national monument when oil prices are falling? It makes no economic sense. Going after an environmental defense fund for defending Tim would be even worse publicity. This is not eco-terrorism. This is derailing an auction that an unpopular president tried to rush through.

    We should be thinking about a made for TV movie.

  26. #27 by Leo Brown on December 22, 2008 - 8:41 am

    Looking over recent BLM leases in Utah, as I suspected, the leases are to relatively small firms. We are not talking about the majors. That doesn’t affect the facts of the case, but it does suggest we are talking small potatoes by oil industry standards.

  27. #28 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 8:55 am

    It would be the precedent Leo, simply stated.

    The other reason that many miss is the land grab opportunity, and the future rights of exploitation. Don’t know about you Leo, but I do not expect oil and gas to remain in the price structure it is now forever.

    Consider the likes of Martha Stewart in jail, and the like of Madoff wandering the streets of Manhattan. The little people must know that if they interfere with their masters, they will have to pay.

    Jump the fare in the Manhattan subway and end up in the Tombs for a month. Steal 50 billion, hang at home. You get the idea Leo, or at least I hope you do.

    This is their current attitude. It would be nice if it could be broken.

    Did Exxon care about publicity as it petitioned the courts to screw the people of Alaska?

  28. #29 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 9:07 am

    In addition Leo after spending some time working in the industry, they are not too much concerned about wasting money, not from what I have seen. Naturally, with business like theirs, they have lawyers on retainer.

    When the game is on, and they have “permission” to shred, time is far more important than money to them. They absolutely know before they start that their day will come to an end. It is all included in their plans, in my view.

    Dealing with Tim and getting him punished protects their future, in the same way the diminished Exxon settlement sets the precedent for lower punitive damages for future damaging events.

    Tim flew under their radar, but in the large the oil companies have huge profits at stake, and plan for almost all contingencies, including infiltrating and monitoring environmental organizations. They do play for keeps Leo. So shall the supporters of the environment. Expect sparks, as that is a certainty.

  29. #30 by tyra k on December 22, 2008 - 9:11 am


    Good work! You should contact the NRDC. They may help you with that probono legal counsel you’re looking for.

  30. #31 by Leo Brown on December 22, 2008 - 2:25 pm

    From the SL Trib

    …Julianne Fitzgerald, a Moab real-estate broker who is helping DeChristopher in the aftermath of the action that has drawn national attention, said former BLM Director Pat Shea and noted defense attorney Ron Yengich were advising the U. student. Civil-rights attorneys from other parts of the nation also want to get on board, Fitzgerald said.

    Kathleen Sgamma, director of Government Affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said Monday her organization had no plans to take action against DeChristopher.

  31. #32 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 2:48 pm

    Why would they Leo? It isn’t their leases that were screwed up. The people he ran up the auction on would have cause, the alphabet agency you mentioned there would only be advocates once they get it along.

    Of course as you point out, no one need do anything, as the Feds will take first crack at the affair. If they convict, any civil action is a slam dunk.

  32. #33 by Leo Brown on December 22, 2008 - 3:40 pm

    The Obama Justice Department might not pursue the case, which can easily be delayed until January 20th. And which oil company do you expect to take up the case? ExxonMobil? I haven’t seen any evidence that they were involved in the bidding. They would therefore have no standing. The Southern Utah reservoirs are too small and too broken up to be of much interest to the majors.

  33. #34 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 4:12 pm

    The only people that have claim in the civil case are those that bid on the leases that Tim won, and those that he bid up. Doesn’t mean the majors won’t offer support, just like we wish to offer Tim support. Very simple

    Do you know who the largest player is over here is CO in the gas biz? Exxonmobil, there is also Occidental, Williams and Encana, and a bunch of smaller fish. I only mention Exxon as I have direct experience in the machinations of gas and oil businesses and how they subvert public policy. We just saw Teddy Stevens go down for taking bribes from VECO, an oil services company.

    Might not pursue it? I would imagine some people will insist on it. You are after all in Utah Leo. Crimes are crimes, and must be prosecuted, that is the obligation of those sworn to office, even if it is halfhearted. Tim confessed after all. No brainer. Mitigation considered in sentencing. He convicted himself. Misrepresentation is a crime.

    If I for instance compelled you to engage in activities that caused you to pay more money for a thing than it would have cost, had I not acted in such a way, would you consider that crime? Politics aside, and I may agree with you, what I just described is better known as a scam.

    You guys are off base, it is gas they are looking for in those areas, and it is there. There are hundreds of oil wells in the Moab area all capped if you did not know, drilled back in the day. It is after all geologically all sitting on salt, and the domes naturally collect oil, and gas.

  34. #35 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 4:28 pm

    You all have Jimmy Carter to thank, he was after all the president that designated the area we speak about in Utah and Colorado on BLM land, a National Energy Sacrifice Zone, back in ’78, I believe.

    The Roan Plateau where the oil shale experiment first began, was all funded by federal money. I have been there and seen it, Encana now operates the area for gas production in Garfield County CO. If you don’t have the right cards, you will never see it. Encana has its own police force, and they are all unmarked. You must sign waivers that you won’t talk about anything going on there, or take any pictures.

    This is a Canadian company operating it’s own fiefdom within our Nation. They pollute, simply pay the fines. Someday they will go away, and you can chase them for their damages them in Canada. Good luck. Exxonmobil is just across the street in the Pieance Basin.

    To see it is to believe as i learned in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez, that indeed, there are corporations that have more power than State governments, perhaps even more than our Federal government itself.

    Not sure, but I think that is the definition of fascism, with a small f.

  35. #36 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 4:37 pm

    Ever see rocks burn? They do in the oil shale. Look like rocks, hard like rocks, but when lit with a torch they burn asphalt hot. Whole flippin’ mountains of them.

    The first area taken for energy is near Parachute Colorado. It is the Naval Strategic Energy Reserve. In case of war, this is where oil to run our fleets will come from if supply is scarce. It is so huge a man cannot really comprehend its true size.

    Fore years we pay for our energy with paper chits, compelling foreign regimes to take it, or else. All the while hoarding our real reserves for some future conflict or scarcity. How Americans imagine we attained our standard of living and hegemony since WW2 without this freebee, is beyond me. Not many people really understand geo-politics and political economy, not that I do.

  36. #37 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 4:43 pm

    This will interest you Leo. Hopes of a jury trial suspended by our economic woes.

  37. #38 by Leo Brown on December 22, 2008 - 6:23 pm

    It is all in the economics. Oil shale is economical at about $90 a bbl. We are currently at less than half of that. It really isn’t in Exxon’s economic interest to help out their little competitors.

    The nuclear Navy doesn’t need their oil reserves for the fleet any more, though the Marines, Army, and Air Force might.

  38. #39 by Leo Brown on December 22, 2008 - 6:32 pm

    More on economics:

    Utah State Director Selma Sierra said only 6 percent of lease parcels would ever see drilling because of the “costly and speculative” nature of the business.

    More on the law:

    It is not so clear that Tim DeChristopher violated the 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.

    The Feds might not pursue this. If they don’t, then the state might not bother, and any civil actions would be much harder. The Feds, especially under the new administration, might be happy if Tim just agreed not to do this again.

  39. #40 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 7:29 pm

    Not so Leo. There are people (shell) that claim that they will produce the oil from shale in place using microwave technology for 35 dollars a barrel. Sclumberger has the license on the technology patented by Raytheon. It is portable, and is less invasive than the old concept. They are doing it right now as experiment on the Roan Plateau, in a completely secured area.

    The nuclear navy only exists on capital ships, the rest of the support fleet, in fact the world runs on bunker oil Leo. All of our container ships, tankers, and the like run on it.

    Whatever director Selma says who cares? What will become of them (leases) 50 years from now? 100 years?

    The shakeout is happening now with little companies unable to get financing, and Exxon knows that these little guys pressuring States and the Interior Dept. to open areas, makes it oh so much easier for them to get their groove on.

    As for Tim, in the grand scheme of what is going to happen with energy and our constant need for it, his outcome is small potatoes. However a bid is seen as a binding contract by the Dept. of Interior, so we shall see what becomes of it. One thing is probably certain, all future entrants at a future bid process will likely be vetted, and Tim or anyone else without means or authorization won’t get the chance to do it again. More regulation, that we no doubt will pay for, with money we don’t have.

  40. #41 by Moribund Republic on December 22, 2008 - 7:39 pm

    Schlumberger, the oil services company, one of the biggest, after of course, Halliburton.

  41. #42 by Leo Brown on December 23, 2008 - 6:07 pm

    Oil shale is not currently competitive with Saudi crude. Maybe some day. Investing in oil shale is a very speculative business these days. KWK shares, for example, are now selling at about $5 each, down from their high this year of almost $45 a share.

    The BLM leases will expire in ten years if not drilled. It is rather expensive to drill dry holes, so not every parcel is likely to be drilled, especially if oil prices remain low.

  42. #43 by Moribund Republic on December 23, 2008 - 6:42 pm

    Absolutely Leo, of course not, but the cost of a military budget to keep the oil flowing from the region, and Saudi Arabia is never factored into to most equations.

    Of course the price of that oil is also calculated in lives, but not much is said about that either. The point is that should we need to, it is right there in the backyard, as is coal, and gas. We will have the technology.

    Not worried about the carbon you see, had nothing to do with the last massive melt off in the last 13,000 years, of which the current alarm is yet part of. In fact, science doesn’t know what caused the ice age to “end”. Only theories. Like anthropogenic warming theory.

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