ANCHORAGE - State Sen. Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, has resigned as a public relations consultant to Evergreen Resources Inc., which is planning a controversial natural gas exploration project in the Matanuska-Susitna area.
Critics accused Ogan of having a serious conflict of interest when he accepted the $40,000-a-year job with the Denver-based company after sponsoring a bill creating a shallow-gas leasing program.
Ogan spent months denying any conflict of interest in maintaining his legislative seat and his job with Evergreen, which holds 300,000 acres of state leases in the Mat-Su area. On Tuesday, Ogan acknowledged the legitimacy of claims that he had "an irreconcilable conflict."
Ogan announced his resignation in a one-page statement faxed to media outlets Tuesday evening just as Evergreen CEO Mark Sexton was meeting with mostly angry residents in Sutton.
Sexton made no mention during the meeting of Ogan's resignation, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
In his statement, Ogan said his oath to serve his constituents "must always come first." He said Evergreen's recent acquisition of additional gas leases and overwhelming public interest in getting more information "has compromised my ability to be impartial and represent both."
"I regret ending my relationship with Evergreen because I love good resource development," he said. "I hope my stepping down will allow people to focus on the issue of shallow gas, rather than the perception of my conflict."
Ogan was not available for comment, nor were Evergreen officials.
At the meeting in Sutton, nearly continuous catcalls greeted top officials from Evergreen who convened to discuss their plans to explore for coal bed methane across the Mat-Su area.
Sexton spoke of Evergreen's economic presence in Colorado's Las Animas County, saying the company provides more than half the tax base and sustains 200 long-term jobs, while aggressively contributing to local charities.
Audience members held up pink paper signs saying, "Why can't we ask you questions?" that referred to Evergreen's policy Tuesday night of only accepting written questions read by a moderator. Many residents fear that their wells will dry up or become polluted and that few state laws protect them.
Evergreen has leases to draw methane, the chief component of natural gas, from coal seams from Houston to Sutton in patches that include populated areas. But the company said more exploration and testing is needed before it determines the prospects are economic to produce.