Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Government cancels leases for Utah oil, gas drilling

Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, is President-elect Obama's choice for Interior Secretary. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Reversing Bush administration policy, the U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday canceled energy leases that would have opened lands near national parks in Utah to oil and natural gas drilling.

"I have directed (the department's) Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bids," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters on a conference call.

Environmental groups hailed the decision. They had filed a suit against the leases, complaining that Bush was rushing through a last-minute plan to auction pristine wilderness areas. They also said exploration would hurt tourism.

Oil and gas industry representatives expressed concern about the Obama administration's energy policy.

Salazar said the department would return the $6 million in bids on the 103,000 acres of contested parcels of land. He also said the department would reassess the decision to open these lands to energy exploration, which drew a firestorm of criticism from lawmakers and environmental groups.

Government cancels leases for Utah oil, gas drilling

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