From: Paul Foy, Associated Press
Published December 9, 2004 12:00 AM

Groups Say Government Plans Oil and Gas Lease Auction for National Forest Tracts

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal oil and gas lease auction planned for Friday will offer companies the chance to bid for drilling rights on roadless tracts in a popular national forest, conservation groups say.


The auction will be run by the Bureau of Land Management and offers 16,700 acres of land in the Uinta National Forest, according to conservation and sportsmen groups.


The areas are popular with hikers, hunters and anglers, and shelter wildlife such as elk, bald eagles, sage grouse and mule deer.


But the Forest Service said drilling rights will not necessarily lead to surface occupancy or road-building. Energy companies could use slant drilling to reach underground oil or gas pockets from outside the roadless parcels, said Kim Martin, forest engineer for the Uinta National Forest.


A coalition of conservation and outdoor industry groups on Wednesday asked the Forest Service to withdraw the lands from auction, but Martin said the Forest Service finished an environmental impact statement several years ago that cleared them for leasing.


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Peter Metcalf, president of the Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., said oil and gas development would ruin the qualities that customers seek when they hike in the area.


"It's bad policy and a bad deal -- bad for people, bad for the outdoor industry, and bad for Utah's economy that is better served by sustainable recreation than one-time drilling," he said.


Lee Peacock, president of the Utah Petroleum Association, said some companies obtain leases to conduct seismic surveys that don't disturb public lands. But he also said the nation needs resources that are under more sensitive areas.


"Everyone wishes we could find oil and gas in nice, easy places, but those places are gone, used up. The oil and gas potential is evolving into more sensitive areas. We have to make a decision as a society to allow the responsible development of oil and gas leases on public lands," he said.


On Tuesday, the bureau pulled from the offering parcels of land within view of Hovenweep National Monument on the Utah-Colorado border. The possibility of drilling on those tracts drew protests from archeologists, conservation groups and a former park ranger.


Source: Associated Press


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