Oil and gas industry slams Salazar for yanking drilling leases near Utah parks

A study by an association representing the oil and gas industry – not surprisingly – found Interior Secretary Ken Salazar engaged in political gamesmanship when he pulled back leases on 60 parcels of BLM land sold in a heavily protested and fraud-marred auction last December in Salt Lake City.

Salazar, who outright pulled eight of the leases near critical national parks like Arches and Canyonlands and deferred 52 others for more study, said they were sold at the direction of Bush administration officials trying to push them through on their way out the White House doors.

ken salazar

According to the Salt Lake City Deseret News, the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS) Thursday issued a report accusing Salazar of ignoring Bureau of Land Management planners and scientists who found the parcels suitable for drilling.

“It’s a sad day when politics trumps the expertise of professional land managers and the hard work of citizens to develop economic and resource-development plans that the community has embraced,” said IPAMS spokeswoman Kathleen Sgamma. “If you’re not listening to your land managers and the public, who are you listening to?”

However, officials in the National Park Service also objected to the BLM’s handling of the lease sale.

IPAM’s Sgamma earlier this summer weighed in on Colorado congresswoman Diana DeGette’s controversial FRAC Act, which aims to remove a Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for the drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing granted during the Bush years in 2005.

“[Fracking’s] got an exemplary safety record and it’s vital to ensuring an American energy source. Keep in mind that it has been regulated by the states for the last 60 years,” Sgamma told the Colorado Independent in June, adding fracking uses 99.5 percent water and sand, with the remaining percentage comprised of chemicals such as food additives, food-worthy thickeners, chlorine, bacteriasides and emulsions to thicken the mixture.

That state oversight isn’t good enough for Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, according to the Pike County Courier. Sestak signed on a co-sponsor of DeGette’s bill, citing state Department of Environmental Protection findings that drinking water has been contaminated by gas drilling in at least seven counties.

“If Pennsylvanians can’t trust their own drinking water, then they should at least be able to trust their representatives in Congress to hold these companies accountable to fix the problem,” said Sestak, who is vying for Arlen Specter’s seat in the Senate.

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