Officials pushing Salazar to rethink oil, gas policies

More than 90 county commissioners and other elected officials in the West have signed letters asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to consider the impact of his oil and gas policies on jobs and rural economies.

Among those making the request are all three Mesa County commissioners, as well as elected officials from Rio Blanco and Montrose counties and from areas in eastern Colorado.

Mark Raymond, a Uintah County, Utah, commissioner, said Thursday he has brought the petitions to the attention of Salazar, who responded that he might put together a team to visit with concerned officials.

“However, I haven’t seen that team. They have not been in touch with me,” Raymond said in a Web-based presentation put on by the Western Business Roundtable.

Interior Department spokeswoman Betsy Hildebrandt said she’s not aware of the department receiving the petitions.

She added, “The secretary has said we’re going to continue to support oil and gas development in the West, and exploration, but we’re going to do it in a way that’s consistent with other land-use values. He’s been very clear and consistent in talking about that it’s an important industry, it’s important to the overall energy plan for the country. It’s just we’re going to try to do it in a way that’s a responsible and balanced way.”

Kathleen Sgamma of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States said in Thursday’s presentation that a survey involving about 35 of its members found federal constraints were keeping them from investing $2.8 billion in the Rockies.

Another participant in the presentation, Daryl Stewart, owner of Stewart Petroleum, said that after four years of continued delays in getting approval, he has been able to drill only one of nine planned wells in the Bookcliffs in Uintah County. It’s kept him from spending a planned $16 million on the project, he said.

David Garbett, a staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said his group has been seeking to get Stewart Petroleum to move planned well pads and drill directionally to protect areas the group wants designated as wilderness.

While critics think reforms proposed by Salazar could add to delays and further hinder drilling, Garbett believes they would result in better determinations of what lands are appropriate for leasing.

That would not only better protect the environment, it would provide more certainty to industry, “because they know if they’re purchasing a lease, then there won’t be surprises further down the road,” Garbett said.


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