Gas-patch politicians ask Salazar to ease up on industry even as Colorado levies record fines

Monday, just a couple of days after running a story in which more than 90 county commissioners and other elected officials from around the West urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to ease up on the oil and gas industry, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel posted a story illustrating why that would be a really bad idea.

In Monday’s story, the Sentinel revealed Oxy USA has reached a deal with state regulators to pay fines of nearly $650,000 for pit leaks in 2008 that contaminated spring water northwest of Parachute. A fine of $390,000 for contamination in the Cascade Canyon area could be the highest ever levied by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) – surpassing the $371,000 paid by EnCana for a gas seep in West Divide Creek near Silt.

Oxy USA also has reportedly agreed to a $257,400 fine for a leak at Rock Springs. The deal will be the subject of a COGCC hearing and still requires state approval.

In a story on Saturday the Sentinel reported all three Mesa County commissioner and elected officials from Rio Blanco and Montrose counties signed letters requesting Salazar to take economic impacts and job losses into consideration when overseeing oil and gas leasing on public lands in the western United States. An Interior Department spokeswoman said she had not received the petitions.

“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,” Betsy Hildebrandt told the paper. “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.”

Oil and gas industry representatives claim stricter federal leasing rules and tougher environmental regulations by the state have hurt Colorado’s drilling sector by limiting investment and costing jobs.

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