Drilling battle may impact Pitco land | AspenTimes.com

Drilling battle may impact Pitco land

If Congress makes it easier to produce natural gas in Colorado, pristine lands in Pitkin County probably won’t be extensively drilled but could lose the opportunity for special protection, according to experts with The Wilderness Society.A broker with a Denver company that acquires leases from the federal government for gas companies agreed that there is very limited potential for gas production in Pitkin County. Prices paid for leases in Pitkin County indicate gas companies are only speculating on availability of gas, said the industry source, who didn’t want to be identified by name.Two parcels in extreme western Pitkin County were leased to the gas industry last month. A 760-acre parcel adjacent to the popular Spring Gulch nordic skiing area in Jerome Park, southwest of Carbondale, sold for $17 per acre or a total of $12,920.Another parcel of 800 acres in Pitkin County sold for $39 per acre or a total of $31,200.In contrast, a lease on a parcel in Garfield County, where part of the gas-rish Piceance Basin is located, sold for $1,400 per acre.The price differences reflect the near-certainty of gas production on the Garfield County parcel and the speculative status of Pitkin County gas reserves, the gas industry source said.Nevertheless, a bigger push to tap domestic gas supplies could effect Pitkin County in a couple of ways, according to officials with The Wilderness Society. Pete Morton, a resource economist with the organization, said the Bush administration is pushing for big tax breaks for companies that must undertake costly drilling techniques. Those subsidies reduce financial risks and make it more lucrative to drill in “marginal” areas that might not hold great amounts of gas, he said.Steve Smith, assistant director of The Wilderness Society’s Four Corners Region, said gas companies want to rush to obtain as many leases as possible, speculative or not, because conditions are favorable to them, at least until the next election.”The gas companies know exactly who’s in charge right now,” he said.Actions taken now will have consequences that reach far beyond the current administration, Smith said. If pristine public lands, like those in Pitkin County, are leased for gas development, that might effect how those lands are managed forever – even if they are never drilled, according to Smith.”It’s very tough to return those lands to a protected status once those lands get leased,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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