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Going to Jail to Save the Wild from Oil and Gas Drilling

Tim DeChristopher bid at auction for drilling rights to protect 150,000 acres of Utah's wilderness -- and paid the price.

Photo Credit: Flickr


So if we now have representative government in name only, and are governed instead by corporations and their lobbyists, what’s to be done? Tim DeChristopher wrestled with that reality and decided what he would do.

As a result, he spent almost two years in prison. He’s out now, and you can learn the whole story in the new documentary, Bidder 70.

In December 2008, as the Bush administration was coming to an end, this environmental activist, then 27 years old, went to an auction of gas and oil drilling rights on more than 150,000 acres of Utah wilderness, all of it public land. It was a sale DeChristopher believed to be illegal.

TIM DECHRISTOPHER in BIDDER 70: Instead of getting dragged out they said “Hi. Are you here for the auction?”

And I said, “Yes, I am.” And they said, “Are you here to be a bidder?” And I said, “Well, yes, I am”.

AUCTIONEER in BIDDER 70: I have two and a quarter in the back and now to two and a half…

TIM DECHRISTOPHER in BIDDER 70: I saw right away with that bid card they’d given me, I could really disrupt this process. I had all these visions of my future and all the catastrophic effects of climate change, but if I start to bid on this there’s a decent chance I could go to prison. Could I live with that? And I thought, well, yeah. It’d suck, but I could live with it.

AUCTIONEER in BIDDER 70: Three fifths and four and five...

TIM DECHRISTOPHER in BIDDER 70: And I finally took that step, and jumped all the way in and started winning parcels. I started winning all the parcels.

AUCTIONEER in BIDDER 70: And five, are you all in? Are you all done? At fifty dollars, sold fifty dollars to Bidder number 70, Bidder 70[…]

REPORTER 1 in BIDDER 70: An environmentalist threw a controversial oil and gas lease auction into turmoil today.

REPORTER 2 in BIDDER 70: Well Tim DeChristopher says he’s willing to go to jail, and it’s possible that’s where he’ll wind up.

REPORTER 3 in BIDDER 70: A college student may face federal criminal charges for disrupting that auction with bogus bids.

BILL MOYERS: The federal government indicted Tim DeChristopher on two felony counts, even though the oil and gas auction had been quickly declared null and void by the new Obama administration and its Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

KEN SALAZAR in BIDDER 70: Because of the need to review these parcels, and because of their proximity to landscapes of national significance, I have directed the Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bids on the 77 parcels.

TIM DECHRISTOPHER in BIDDER 70: To see this land and this view, there’s no way that I could ever regret what I did. To see that the land looks like this, that it’s this beautiful, and to know it’s going to keep looking like this, it’s still going to look this way, and there’s not going to be an oil rig in the way. There’s not going to be a road cut right through the middle of it. That’s really reaffirming, and I think really justifies my actions.

BILL MOYERS: The legal process dragged on. Tim DeChristopher held out for a trial by jury, despite government attempts to make a deal.

TIM DECHRISTOPHER in BIDDER 70: I’ve been offered a couple informal plea bargains. The one formal one was for as little as thirty days in jail. My lawyers said they do really want you to serve some time to set an example that discourages other people from doing this and I said that’s exactly why I’m not going to take this deal, because I have the opposite motivation, and it’s really rubbed me the wrong way about any kind of solution that doesn’t involve a jury.

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