DENVER — A judge late Saturday halted the Bush administration's efforts to open 110,000 acres of federal land in Utah to oil and gas exploration, ruling that the danger of damaging the pristine land required further study before leases were awarded.
The leases to the parcels had been auctioned off Dec. 19 in a move that environmental groups said was a last-minute gift to the energy industry before President Bush left office.
A coalition of seven groups sued for a temporary restraining order, and the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina means the checks written by energy companies for the land cannot be cashed.
Urbina's order postpones any sale until after he can hear arguments on the merits of the case, a delay that will potentially place the fate of the land into the hands of the Obama administration. Aides to President-elect Barack Obama have objected to the sale.