County (Hot) Seat: Official’s talking points flunk the test in Congress

It was with some amusement that we watched Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee deliver testimony this past Thursday in front of the House Oversight & Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing regulations on his community.  Given Mr. McKee’s prolific appearances on behalf of the oil and gas industry, we were pretty sure of what he would say: XX policy has killed jobs in Uintah County, industry is fleeing, we are suffering.

Suffering?  Uintah County may be suffering from record winter ozone levels, but not from unemployment, which is 4.1% there – the lowest in the state.

Fortunately, Red Rock champ Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) teased some of this inconvenient information out of a reluctant Mike McKee, who comes up with some pretty novel scientific reasoning for ozone pollution.

Watch for yourself:

SUWA was at the forefront of tracking the winter ozone problem in the Uintah Basin, which, as Rep. Connolly pointed out, has reached levels worse than Los Angeles, and which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency described as “unearthly.”  Commissioner McKee is correct that scientific studies are still underway to determine exactly what roles various factors such as sun and snow play in the formation of the complex pollutant known as ozone.  However, nobody is arguing that oil and gas production be removed from the equation entirely as McKee asserts in his response to Rep. Connolly’s questioning.  In fact, the Bureau of Land Management acknowledges that oil and gas activity is likely the leading cause of ozone pollution in northeast Utah.

It’s extremely disappointing then that the Interior Department appears ready to follow Mike McKee’s “head in the sand” approach by approving 1,300 new gas wells in the Desolation Canyon region – a project which according to the BLM’s own findings will worsen the ozone problems in the Uintah Basin.  The disastrous Gasco project is out of step with other recent agreements between industry and conservation interests, including SUWA, which reduced the number of wells drilled while still extracting the natural gas resource – in turn reducing the amount of ozone causing pollutants emitted during development.

There’s still time for the Obama administration to make the right choice on the Gasco project – if you haven’t yet, please take action today!  Click here to sign our petition on