Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stressed energy production and job creation… (Getty Images )
The Obama administration has approved a new natural gas drilling project in Utah that is designed to support more than 4,000 jobs and boost the production of energy -- while protecting the environment. All are political issues in the current presidential election year.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the approval on Tuesday during an appearance outside Salt Lake City. Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. will be allowed to develop up to 3,675 natural gas wells in the next decade in Uintah County, about 170 miles southeast of Salt Lake City near the Colorado border.
The announcement comes as Republicans have pressed the Obama administration on energy policy and on job-creation efforts at a time when the national unemployment numbers are at 8.1%. As part of its attack on how the Democrats are dealing with the economy, the GOP has called for more production and more drilling.
In announcing the agreement, the Obama administration stressed energy production and job creation. According to the Interior Department, natural gas production grew by more than 7% in 2011, the nation’s largest volume increase in a year. Domestic oil production reached its highest level in eight years.
“The president is focused on expanding safe and responsible production of natural gas as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs,” Salazar said. “This agreement is a great example of how collaboration can allow us to uphold America’s conservation values while bringing growth to Utah’s economy and further reducing our dependence on foreign oil by developing our resources here at home.”
The proposed gas wells, to be located in an area with thousands of other wells, would support an annual average of 1,709 jobs directly and 1,212 jobs indirectly, the government said. At peak development, the project would support 4,302 short-term jobs; it would support an average of 875 long-term jobs over the production life of the project.
The agreement also offered something to environmental groups, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which repeated its April praise. As part of the agreement, Anadarko promised not to drill along the high cliffs of the White River on the Colorado Plateau. The company also agreed to buy 640 acres of private land along the river for conservation, the group said.
“We appreciate Anadarko’s willingness to meet with us, listen to our concerns, and adjust its project to eliminate and mitigate impacts,” said Stephen Bloch, energy program director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “These kinds of compromise agreements confirm that Utah can have a robust energy sector while at the same time protect its wildest public lands.”
The agreement drew a mixed response from Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican. Hatch faces a June primary for the nomination to seek a seventh term in the Senate.
“This expected announcement is a step in the right direction, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Hatch said in a prepared statement. “The fact is that much more has to be done to open up more of our state’s land to development.”
The economy remains the most important election issue, according to almost every poll, but at least some energy issues, such as high gasoline prices, are also factors.
A Gallup poll in March found that Americans were almost evenly split 47% to 44% when asked whether energy production or the environment should have a higher priority, a narrower division than a year ago when energy led 50% to 41%.