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Interior Dept. Says OK To Utah Drilling Project

5/8/2012 2:42 PM ET

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved a major drilling project in Utah Tuesday, just one day after dedicating two special conservation projects in the state.

Salazar said the new project will protect environmentally sensitive areas while developing up to 3,600 new natural gas wells.

"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 in an appearance at Salt Lake City's Kern River Compressor Station.

He added, "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."

Salazar announced Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC: Quote) would be responsible for the Greater Natural Buttes Project, which will encompass "approximately 163,000 acres...which would be drilled over a period of 10 years," an Interior Department press release said. The release added the project will support 1,709 jobs directly and 1,212 jobs indirectly per year.

"Secretary Salazar's action today represents the culmination of a comprehensive public involvement effort involving tribes and numerous cooperators at the federal, state and local level to ensure we are addressing environmental concerns early in the process," Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey said at the SLC appearance.

Some environmental groups have heralded the announcement, citing Anadarko Petroleum as being open and receptive to their queries and concerns.

As a result of a meeting with various environmental groups, Anadarko made sure to avoid various sensitive areas in the White River proposed wilderness area.

"We appreciate Anadarko's willingness to meet with us, listen to our concerns, and adjust its project to eliminate and mitigate impacts," Stephen Bloch, Energy Program Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) said in a press statement.

The announcement comes just a day after two new conservation areas were dedicated in southern Utah, a further showing of support for the environmental community from the Obama administration.

"The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area became part of BLM's National Landscape Conservation System in 2009 with the passage of the [bipartisan] Omnibus Public Land Management Act," a separate Interior Department press release said Monday.

At another ceremony with Salazar and Abbey on Monday, the officials touted the need for the public's access to nature and the outdoors, especially in a state like Utah, where "5.7 million visitors spent time on public lands in 2011 alone and outdoor recreation contributed $490 million to the economy."

The Interior Department was also praised by SUWA and other groups for not approving the Gasco natural gas project in Utah, which would drill up to 200 wells in Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness, an area recognized as being wilderness caliber.

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by RTT Staff Writer

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