FROM THE ARCHIVE

Norton denies politics played role in drilling

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JUNE 7, 2001

At a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton denied party politics influenced her department's decision to allow a large Republican donor to drill for oil on land considered sacred to a number of tribes.

To the best of her knowledge, said the Secretary, Bureau of Land Management officials in Montana acted alone when they allowed billionaire Phillip Anschutz' company to drill a test oil well in an area known as the Valley of the Chiefs. Although approval came 12 days after President Bush's inauguration and after Anschutz made $300,000 in donations to Republican interests, Norton said no direction came from the Bush administration.

"We found no evidence that there was any communication from or to Washington in that decision making process," Norton told the House Committee on Resources. "As far as I know, there was no contact between those who have made decisions on this and anyone in Washington."

Norton acknowledged that she recently attended an art exhibit which features Anschutz' private collection of paintings. But she added that she doesn't believe she discussed drilling with him -- a fellow Coloradan -- at the museum.

Norton's explanation, however, won't be deterring tribes from opposing drilling at the site. Before the hearing, representatives from four tribes announced they will appeal the BLM's decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

"The BLM has made a a big mistake in allowing oil to be drilled for in this small, pristine valley," said Howard Boggess, a member of the Crow Tribe of Montana.

Boggess was joined by officials from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Blackfeet Nation of Montana. James St. Goddard, a member of the Blackfeet tribal council, said his tribe will offer Anschutz leases on its reservation if the company drops its plans for Weatherman Draw. The tribe has an oil and gas development deal with a Canadian company.

Although the tribes are pressing an appeal, Anschutz Exploration Corp. can start drilling as early as June 21. The company estimates it can finish its task in 10 days if it drills 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The BLM won't allow the company to drill between April 15 to May 16 and September 15 to October 15 because tribal members hold ceremonies at the site.

Representative Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the committee, yesterday introduced a bill to outlaw development altogether at Weatherman Draw. He also urged Norton to use her power to prevent drilling from occurring.

"Exploring for oil in this place has been described as placing an oil rig in the Sistine Chapel," said Rahall. "Are we really that desperate? Are we really that greedy?"

Norton said she would continue to monitor the situation but had no opinion at the time as to whether drilling should take place.

Get BLM Documents:
Environmental Assessment: ANSCHUTZ EXPLORATION WEATHERMAN DRAW PROJECT (BLM 2/1)
Anschutz Exploration Corp. will be allowed to drill (BLM 2/6)
Weatherman Draw Oil and Gas Exploration (BLM 2/16)

Relevant Links:
Anschutz Exploration - http://www.anschutz-exploration.com
Blackfeet Nation - http://www.blackfeetnation.com
House Resources Committee - http://resourcescommittee.house.gov

Related Stories:
Norton hit on exploration of sacred site (6/6)
GOP faces last day in power: House taking advantage (6/5)
Mont. tribe pushing gas, oil development (6/1)
BLM allows oil exploration at sacred site (5/22)
Sacred site slated for oil exploration (5/21)
Tribes protest drilling decision (5/8)
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