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Eco-Activist Tim DeChristopher Dupes Big Oil, Faces Jail Time

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As a single citizen, it can seem impossible to fight against huge oil corporations and the damage they cause to the environment. Eco-activist Tim DeChristopher found a way, though.

Back in 2008, DeChristopher was an economics student at the University of Utah and, like many others, was appalled at the Bush administration’s plans to rush a drilling auction for land near national parks in Utah. DeChristopher couldn’t find a way to stall the auctions, so he decided to play along instead: DeChristopher attended the auction, grabbed bidding paddle no. 70 and started buying leases.

When all was said and done, DeChristopher had won 13 leases, saving 22,500 acres near the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks from being bought by big oil companies. DeChristopher’s purchases totaled $1.7 million, and he drove up prices on a number of other lots, costing the oil men hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of course, DeChristopher never planned on paying for the lots, and he now faces $750,000 in fines and up to 10 years jail time if he is convicted. The trial began Monday, and though DeChristopher pleaded not guilty he has said that he does not dispute the facts of the case, and expects to be convicted. Although just one sympathetic juror could prevent a conviction, things don’t look great for DeChristopher after the judge ruled out a “necessity” defense, in which DeChristopher could claim he broke the law to prevent greater harm.

DeChristopher has become something of a folk hero for environmentalists for his actions, a point illustrated by the hundreds of activists that marched on the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City on Monday to support him as his trial began.

The trial, which was pushed forward by the oil and gas industry, is scheduled for four days. A ruling should be reached by the end of this week or early next. The drilling leases, meanwhile, were canceled by the Obama administration in early 2009.

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