WASHINGTON (CN) - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday canceled petroleum drilling leases on more than 100,000 acres of public land in Utah near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The 77 drilling leases were among hundreds of the Bush administration's last-minute gifts to oil companies. The lands at issue here are rich in cultural artifacts as well as natural beauty and Bush's leases sparked a flurry of law suits challenging the midnight regulatory changes.
Salazar said at a news conference that the Bush administration had "rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our greatest national icons, some of our nation's most treasured landscapes" without the required scientific reviews and consultation. A federal judge in Seattle issued an injunction in January, blocking the oil and gas companies from taking possession of the land. The government will return about $6 million to the bidders. Salazar said some of the lands may be opened to leasing later, after the proper scientific and environmental reviews have been done.
It was the first direct action from President Barack Obama's administration to undo some of the dozens or hundreds of last-minute regulatory changes the Bush administration rammed through that affect public lands.