INTERIOR secretary comes to prairie to observe oil operation

Wednesday, May 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PAWHUSKA, Okla. (AP) _ Plans to increase U.S. petroleum production need not endanger the environment, U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Wednesday as she watched bison roam the prairie near machines pumping oil out of the ground.

``Across the board, we want to learn from all different sources about how we can best solve the problems of energy and environment,'' she said during her visit to the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in northeast Oklahoma.

Norton said the area is far different from the Alaskan wilderness where President Bush is backing new oil exploration, but she said it shows that oil production and environmental protection can be accomplished at the same time.

Oil wells on the 36,000-acre preserve are operated by independent producers.

The Osage Indian Tribe holds the royalties to the oil, and the Nature Conservancy, a private conservation group, manages the land.

During her tour, Norton saw low-tech approaches to cleaning up spills of oil and salt water, which is used in the drilling process.

In one method, hay is dumped on salt water spills, the land is tilled and prairie grass regrows.