Contending that uncertainty is raising doubts about the federal leasing process, Denver-based Western Energy Alliance, the independent petroleum organization for the Rockies, said on Monday it has filed an appeal to the federal Interior Board of Land Appeals seeking to reverse a decision last November to defer 57 leases on federal lands in Utah.

Alliance member companies spent more than $500,000 preparing for the lease sale and participating in the pre-sale process, during which stipulations were put in place to protect cultural resources.

On Nov. 14 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Utah postponed scheduled oil and natural gas lease sales, and the producers' alliance is alleging that BLM violated its own rules by favoring a single special interest group instead of following the prescribed "open, public process."

BLM said at the time that it was holding off lease sales on nearly 100,000 acres "to provide additional time to address concerns including cultural resources, sensitive species and potential impact to the Old Spanish Trail." The producers' appeal argues that BLM deferred to the Utah Rock Art Research Association, which voiced concerns nearly two months after the lease sale protest period had ended.

"It's the communications outside of BLM process in this case that prompted us to make this appeal," said Kathleen Sgamma, Western Alliance's vice president for government and public affairs. The earliest a decision is likely to come would be in the second quarter this year, Sgamma told NGI.

At the time, BLM-Utah Director Juan Palma stressed the need for "responsible development" of energy resources on public lands in the state. "We are deferring these particular lands from the upcoming sale to provide for additional review and consideration of potential impacts that leasing poses to natural and cultural resources,” Palma said.

Western Alliance contends that the Utah Rock Art organization never filed a formal protest as is required and that it did not participate in the leasing environmental assessment public comment period last summer (June 15-July 15, 2013). The producers allege that the federal agency failed to make its decision in "an open and transparent manner," but was instead unduly influenced by the special interests in this case.

Calling the federal action a response to a last-minute request, Sgamma accused BLM of not following its own policies that state "it won't accept comments received after established deadlines." Instead, it bent to the demands of one group, Sgamma said.

"The situation raises serious questions about political favoritism and sows further uncertainty in the federal leasing process.

"BLM is supposed to make decisions in an open and transparent manner so it isn't unduly influenced by special interests, but that's not what happened in this case."

Following the pared-down sale, BLM announced that it took in nearly $3.4 million from the sale and for calendar year 2013 it completed 27 or 30 scheduled lease sales nationally, offering 1,828 parcels covering 5.4 million acres. From that offering, 1,132 parcels covering nearly 1 million acres, were sold, according to BLM.