Interior Dept. holds meeting on Utah drilling leases
VERNAL, Utah Hundreds of oil-and-gas field workers and their families complained to a federal official about a decision to void 77 drilling leases that were auctioned off by the Bush administration last year.David Hayes, deputy secretary of the Interior Department, visited Vernal in northeast Utah on Tuesday to hear from residents about the February decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to void the leases. Salazar had said the parcels were too close to some of Utah’s national parks.”You try to take that birthright away from us, we’re going to have problems,” Vernal contractor Brownie Tomlinson said. “I think Salazar and whoever else was involved in this crap has done a disservice to Utah.”Others said shelving the leases would mean lost jobs, economic hardship and a lack of commitment to energy independence.A few people supported leaving the land undeveloped.Diane Ackerman, a hunting guide, was booed for saying the locations of the lease parcels was “totally inappropriate” for drilling and that tourism would outlast the booms and busts of oil and gas development.Hayes said he will give a report to Salazar by the end of next week and that the department wants to make the right decision on what to do with the parcels.”That’s why we’re here,” said Hayes, who flew over some of the parcels Tuesday. “We want to do the right thing here. We want to make a decision that makes sense.”The 77 revoked parcels are scattered across eastern Utah, with many bunched up between Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Several were within five miles of those parks. One parcel of 2,200 acres bordered Dinosaur National Monument, according to government lists and maps reproduced by industry and environmental groups.Other shelved parcels were near artifact-rich Nine Mile Canyon and along the high cliffs of whitewater sections of the wild Green River.However, Denver-based Questar Exploration & Production Co. contends that every one of the yanked parcels was adjacent to an existing and valid lease parcel.