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Uintah Basin oil, gas drilling could be impacted by dispute between counties, Ute Tribe

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 9:07 p.m. MST

Those agreements expired in 2008, but the parties continued to work together as if they were still in place. In 2011, after months of negotiations, both counties signed the agreements and sent them to the tribe for approval.

The tribe has yet to sign.

"To go through all of that work and see a lot of progress be made, and then to just have it fall out from underneath us, that part does get a little frustrating," said Jonathan Stearmer, chief deputy attorney for the civil division of the Uintah County Attorney's Office.

"We would like to see the agreements executed by the tribe and let's move forward and be happy citizens in the basin," Stearmer said.

While he said he can't provide legal advice to non-tribal business owners in the wake of the latest announcement by the tribe, Stearmer noted there is case law that clearly defines what limited authority tribal governments can exercise over non-tribal businesses operating in Indian Country.

In spite of that, tribal leaders say they'll push ahead with their license and permit review.

"While we do not want the individual non-members that do business with the tribe in good faith to be affected or injured by this problem, the decisions of their elected leaders have put the tribe in the difficult position to take this action," Ute Tribe Business Committee member Stewart Pike said.

Ute leaders may also file a civil suit in federal court against the counties to try to put an end to the alleged harassment of tribal members, or take other unspecified action. 

"There's a lot of things we can do," Wopsock said. "This tribe is very powerful."

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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