(KCPW News) A public meeting was held last night in Uintah County about the 77 contested Utah oil and gas lease parcels pulled for review by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in February. The meeting with newly confirmed Deputy Secretary David Hayes comes after the county filed a lawsuit over the leases at the urging of Senator Bob Bennett, who held up Hayes' confirmation to protest the Interior Department's actions. County Commissioner Darlene Burns says local officials had a lot of questions for Hayes.
"We just want answers so that we can move forward and have good relationships. We just want him to be able to take back the message that we would like some help here and that this would greatly help us," Burns says.
The oil and gas industry is Uintah County's largest economic driver. 17 of the 77 parcels are located within the county. Burns says immediately after Secretary Salazar's decision, business started leaving town. She estimates the oil and gas industry in the county has slowed down about 50 percent. Burns says it's created a chilling effect, because oil and gas companies have millions invested in the parcels, but can't drill.
"We expect that when the leases are purchased that they can be acted on and that we can continue with our economy here. It made a great deal of difference to our local economy for people moving out and moving to other places because of these being pulled," Burns says.
If the leases are not released by the Interior Department, Burns says it could have a lasting impact in Uintah County. But she says the county's tourism business, its second largest industry, has recently received a boost with the release of federal stimulus funds to re-open the condemned visitors' center at Dinosaur National Monument.