White House Intercedes on Behalf Of El Paso Gas Project

Overriding the opposition of the U.S. Forest Service and New Mexico state officials, a White House energy task force has interceded on behalf of Houston-based El Paso Corp. to explore for natural gas in a remote part of a national forest, The Los Angeles Times reported in its Monday editions.

Forest Service officials discouraged efforts to drill in the Valle Vidal at least three times since the agency acquired the land in 1982, citing concerns about water pollution, wildlife and recreation if a large-scale energy project were approved, but last week, the agency took the first step toward approving El Paso's proposal to tap into 40,000 acres of alpine meadows in the Carson National Forest. The agency released a report that forecast a high probability of recovering gas from the area and laid out a scenario in which 500 wells could be drilled on the forest's east side, the Times reported.

"In this environment, we need new natural gas supplies more than ever," wrote El Paso's federal government affairs director to Robert W. Middleton, the director of the White House Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining. "We believe that the Valle Vidal Unit could be a vital new source of such supply. Consequently, we would very much appreciate anything you could do to help move this process forward in a timely manner."

Copies of correspondence made available to The Times show that after El Paso representatives met with Middleton, he instructed the Forest Service to revisit the project.

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