Leavitt, Walker Ask for Delay of Gas Wells

Leavitt, Walker Ask for Delay of Gas Wells

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Outgoing Gov. Mike Leavitt and his successor, Olene Walker, wrote the Bureau of Land Management this week and asked it delay authorizing 15 gas wells in the Book Cliffs.

The wells would be within a portion of the White River Wilderness Inventory Area and within a recreational corridor along the river, which is a a tributary to the Green River.

"This corridor contains outstanding opportunities for river recreation, hiking and the like," the letter said.

Leavitt's chief planner, Wes Curtis, said the letter was meant, in part, to fulfill Leavitt's commitments to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Association board member Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond Equipment in Salt Lake City, applauded Leavitt's action.

"He is coming through with the commitments he made," Metcalf said. "The fact he is lodging protests with the BLM on gas drilling is a significant change."

The association threatened to move its Outdoor Retailers shows out of Utah because of Leavitt's deal with Interior Secretary Gale Norton in April that removed interim protections for 6 million acres of BLM lands in Utah.

Among those lands was the White River WIA, part of which overlaps a gas-exploration project proposed by a consortium of out-of-state energy companies known as the Resource Development Group.

The 15 wells proposed within the southernmost portion of the WIA are among 423 wells the Resource Development Group proposes to drill in the 80,000-acre project area, which is near the Colorado border.

Accessing the 15 wells would require the construction of 4.5 miles of new roads, which the Utah Wilderness Coalition says would degrade the area's wild character, possibly precluding it from being considered by Congress for permanent wilderness protection.

Leavitt promised to identify the "crown jewels" of BLM lands that have wilderness and other recreational qualities.

Leavitt resigned Wednesday to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency and was succeeded by Walker, who had been lieutenant governor.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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