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Oil industry calling for fight against environmentalists

Oil and gas industry executives are calling for a battle against environmentalists they see as anti-development.

Steve Hinchman, senior vice president of worldwide production for Marathon Oil Co., said it's vital to gain access to drilling in new areas and to ease restrictive regulations to increase supplies in the short term.

The "anti-development movement" is increasing costs of oil and gas development, denying access to resources and hurting the industry's image, and eventually could harm the U.S. economy, Hinchman said at the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association's annual meeting here Monday.

The oil and gas industry must get its own message out and come up with a litigation strategy, he said.

"The barriers to new access must be addressed, and we must counteract the anti-development movement," he said.

Hinchman said the environmental movement is well-organized, well-funded and currently winning.

"They're proactive and put industry on the defensive. ... It's a business run by highly professional people," he said. "It's their full-time business to delay, deny access."

John Walker, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said his organization is waiving fees to attract more members, and will coordinate e-mail and fax campaigns to influence Congress and the White House on energy issues.

"The environmentalists are trying to shut us down inch by inch, no compromise," Walker said. "We have to fight them more effectively."

The San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico produces 10 percent of the nation's natural gas. Royalties and other fees paid by oil and gas are a major contributor to the state's budget.

Stephen Capra, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said in a telephone conversation after the association's meeting that 95 percent of federal land is open to development, but that there are some wild places that should be off limits.

"We are saving small amounts of land and we're not even fighting them on 95 percent of what they want to do," Capra said.

The alliance is trying to restrict drilling on Otero Mesa in south-central New Mexico, an area with one of the largest remaining pieces of biologically valuable Chihuahuan desert grassland.

The Bush administration has pushed to open more environmentally sensitive public lands for oil and gas drilling. Environmentalists have questioned the need for the rapid pace of the government issuing leases on public land given that large chunks of acreage already leased have yet to be developed.

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