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3,675 gas wells OK'd by US -- and environmentalists

Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

This drill rig is part of an existing field in southern Utah that Anadarko will expand on under a deal with the Obama administration and environmental groups.

Up to 3,675 new natural gas wells on federal land in Utah were approved Tuesday by the Obama administration in a deal that even has the backing of key environmental groups.

"This agreement is a great example of how collaboration can allow us to uphold America’s conservation values, while bringing growth to Utah’s economy and further reducing our dependence on foreign oil by developing our resources here at home," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

Under the deal struck with the U.S. and environmental groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Anadarko Petroleum will avoid drilling in 15,000 acres around the White River and instead add the new wells to an existing field in southern Utah.

The Utah conservation group called the deal "goundbreaking and exciting."

"We discussed the conservation community’s concerns about the company’s project — primarily impacts to the White River proposed wilderness area and river-related recreation," SUWA attorney Steve Bloch told msnbc.com in explaining how the deal came together. "We also listened to the company’s concerns about regulatory certainty and their hope for a path forward to develop this project without appeals and litigation."

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which worked with SUWA and studies energy issues across the country, agreed the deal shows promise.

CNBC's Eamon Javers reports the Interior Department's vow to speed up drilling permits on federal land., with Bill Richardson and Gale Norton join the discussion

"We do think this is a model for collaboration" that avoids litigation and conflict, NRDC lands advocate Bobby McEnaney told msnbc.com. "There are right places to drill, and wrong places to drill."

The deal also has the support of The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club.

Republicans have attacked Obama for not opening more public lands to drilling, especially for natural gas.

“Utahns have gotten used to the Obama administration closing off federal lands to domestic energy production, so this announcement is a long time coming," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement. "The fact is that much more has to be done to open up more of our state’s land to development."

Salazar on Tuesday countered that the focus is on "expanding safe and responsible production of natural gas as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."

McEnaney credited Anadarko for showing "a lot of leadership" and taking a "much more proactive stance" than others in the industry.

Ray Bloxham / Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Part of the White River that runs through southern Utah.

Anadarko did not immediately respond to msnbc.com's request for comment, but Reuters quoted spokesman John Christiansen as calling it a "new model for prudent development."

And Brad Holly, Anadarko's general manager for the project, told the Associated Press that "at the end of the day, we all want the same thing — clean air, clean water and cheaper fuel."

Environmental activists did have some criticism for the Interior Department, noting that it has shown support for the Gasco natural gas project that would see 200 wells in separate proposed wilderness area.

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