Drilling stands tall in Garfield County | AspenTimes.com

Drilling stands tall in Garfield County

Phillip YatesGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

The natural gas industry's presence in western Garfield County is evident in this wintry landscape in the Divide Creek area. (Kelley Cox/Post Independent)

GLENWOOD SPRINGS Natural gas permits issued in Garfield County last year accounted for 40 percent of all oil and gas permits issued in Colorado, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission statistics released Monday.The commission issued 6,368 permits in 2007, with 2,550 of those permits for wells in Garfield County, the statistics show. The number of permits issued in the county last year increased by 38 percent from 2006, when 1,844 were issued. That year, Garfield County permits accounted for 31 percent of all permits issued in Colorado.The growth in oil and gas permits shows the continuing and expanding natural gas boom in western Colorado’s Garfield County, which stretches into parts of the gas-rich Piceance Basin.Clare Bastable, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club, a recreational and conservation organization based out of Golden, said the surge in oil and gas permitting in Garfield County is a sign that the area is “ground zero for energy development in Colorado and around the Rocky Mountains right now.””There is no question that the drilling is increasing exponentially in Garfield County,” Bastable said.Companies like Williams Production RMT have targeted the area because of its large natural gas resources. Williams has 2,050 wells in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. Those wells produce more than 700 million cubic feet of natural gas a day – enough to heat 2.5 million homes. The company, which plans its operations three years ahead of time, plans to drill up to 500 wells per year in the area for the next several years, said Susan Alvillar, a spokeswoman for the company.The increase in permits in the county comes when the energy industry in Colorado is at a crossroads as the COGCC works to draft new rules for oil and gas permitting. The COGCC, in late November, issued its initial proposal for rules the agency may implement as it moves forward with implementing House bills 1298 and 1341. The 2007 legislation expanded the focus of the COGCC to consider public health and wildlife impacts and require use of practices to minimize harm from oil-and-gas development.

The commission is holding a series of five meetings to gather public comment on the new rules, along with work sessions on the new rules with people from industry, environmental, sportsmen and agriculture organizations. Some energy industry groups have criticized the new rules.Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said one the industry’s main concerns is that the rulemaking process is going to add “layers and layers of paperwork” and might add to lengthy permitting delays.”It could create delays of up to six and eight months,” Collins said. “Industry is very concerned about what this rulemaking is going to do and how that is going to affect their ability to work and thrive in Garfield County.”However, Bastable said that when residents look at the numbers, it becomes clear that it is imperative that the “we be extremely thoughtful and extremely careful about where, when and how we are drilling in Garfield County.”Bastable, who help state legislators craft HB 1298, said the current rule-making process is an “essential component” to creating that balance between all the different uses of the landscape.”No one is saying that we shouldn’t be drilling in Garfield County. We are getting tremendous revenue from it, we are providing our nation with necessary energy supplies, but I don’t think there is anyone who disagrees that we have to be really thoughtful and really careful about how we approach gas drilling in Garfield County,” said Bastable.Although Garfield County has seen a tremendous increase in the number of permits issued, it lags behind Weld County on Colorado’s Front Range in the number of active wells. The COGCC statistics show that Garfield County has 4,423 active wells, compared to Weld County’s 14,424 wells.pyates@postindependent.com