Rep. Salazar discusses energy in Steamboat

Congressman says he supports Vermillion drilling

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U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa

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Read about opposition to oil and natural gas exploration in Northwest Colorado’s 77,000-acre Vermillion

Basin on the Web at www.savevermillion.org.

— U.S. Rep. John Salazar expressed his support Monday for natural gas exploration on the Vermillion Basin and asked Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner to help with recommendations he can take straight to the top.

“I’m going to write a letter to my brother,” Salazar said, referring to his younger brother, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

John Salazar, a San Luis Val­ley Democrat who represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, visited Steamboat Springs for a Sunday night fundraiser at Ghost Ranch Saloon and a Monday morning meeting with commissioners from three Northwest Colorado counties. His talk with Danner, Commissioner John Rich, of Jackson County, and Routt County commissioners Diane Mitsch Bush and Doug Monger focused largely on energy development and its potential effects on job creation and the economy.

Salazar said he’s “always been adamant” about opening up a portion of the 77,000-acre Vermillion Basin to natural gas exploration. That debate has brewed for years in Moffat County and was stirred up again in recent weeks after the Bureau of Land Management’s June 29 announcement that it plans to close the entire basin to oil and gas exploration.

The BLM decision is part of its proposed Resource Mana­gement Plan for the Little Snake Field Office in Northwest Colorado. A final plan is several months away, Danner said, after at least one more public comment and protest period.

The issue drew a packed crowd to a Moffat County commissioners’ meeting last week in Craig where people on all sides of the issue voiced their opinions. The commissioners support a plan to allow exploration on 1 percent of the basin, an area they say could yield $700 million in natural gas resources. More than $25 million of that, Danner said, would be spread to Moffat County taxing districts. The state of Colorado could receive more than $43 million in royalty shares, and $77 million could fund production and severance tax payments, she said.

Salazar said Monday that ext­raction from Ver­million Basin could bring much-needed jobs and dollars to Northwest Colorado. He asked Danner to outline impacts and benefits of extraction, along with commissioners’ recommendations, for a letter he’ll give to Secretary Ken Salazar.

“I’m very pleased that (John Salazar) would take seriously the economy and issues of Moffat County and Northwest Colorado,” Danner said, adding that she thinks the BLM’s current plan overturns a lengthy public process.

“We had people spend time on a decision, and then it was overturned at a higher level,” she said.

She acknowledged that the wheels of bureaucracy could turn slowly when it comes to a final decision on Vermillion Basin — especially given Ken Salazar’s priority in the Gulf of Mexico.

The administration of Presi­dent Barack Obama issued Monday a revised moratorium on off-shore drilling in the Gulf, as BP crews continued efforts to cap the flow of oil from the devastating spill in April.

“More than 80 days into the BP oil spill, a pause on deep-water drilling is essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts and wildlife from the risks that deep-water drilling currently pose,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said about the new moratorium, according to the Associated Press. “I am basing my decision on evidence that grows every day of the industry’s inability in the deep water to contain a catastrophic blowout, respond to an oil spill, and to operate safely.”

John Salazar’s comments Monday in Centennial Hall indicated that his views on the topic could differ from his brother’s.

“I’m very concerned about the moratorium in the Gulf and what impact that will have … on jobs and the economy in the area,” John Salazar said.

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