Drilling delay near Rifle breeds conflict | SummitDaily.com

Drilling delay near Rifle breeds conflict

HEIDI RICE
garfield county correspondent

RIFLE ” A proposed new rule by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission prohibiting drilling for 90 days in critical wildlife habitat could drive natural gas companies out of the area, which would mean a loss of jobs and a weaker economy, according to industry representatives.

The proposed rule would affect mostly the areas west of Interstate 25, mainly in the Piceance Basin and the San Juan Basin. The 90-day period would run from Jan. 1 to March 31.

Kathy Hall, a lobbyist for the Western Slope Chapter of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, was the featured speaker at a recent Garfield County Republican party lunch in Rifle.

She pointed out that tax revenue from the gas industry made up almost 70 percent of the revenues for the entire county.

“If there’s a three-month halt, that’s a 25 percent loss, along with social issues from unemployment,” Hall said. “Air, water and wildlife are important to all of us, but there needs to be some science behind this.”

Hall’s group points out that the Colorado Division of Wildlife has said that Colorado has too many elk, and that last year saw a 10-year record harvest of mule deer.

“Industry has worked with community-based efforts in Northwest Colorado for sound alternatives to seasonal drilling restrictions on federal lands,” COGA, the industry group has written.

Bob Elderkin of Silt, who sits on the state board of the Colorado Mule Deer Association, said he is in favor of the limitations.

“It’s probably not enough,” Elderkin said. “But if the industry would come in and develop a comprehensive plan for a big area and figure out the areas where the 90-day rule applies, then they can drill all year long. They’ll know in advance where the sensitive areas are or aren’t. If the industry would do some long range planning with the DOW, these obstacles can be overcome.”

Matt Sura, oil and gas organizer for the Western Colorado Congress, a grassroots organization that addresses energy development issues throughout the state, said he thinks 90 days is the minimum requirement to protect wildlife, but added energy companies can circumvent the restrictions.

“The industry is screaming, but this is already a restriction on (Bureau of Land Management) land,” Sura said. “But unlike federal lands, there’s an easy out to get away from these restrictions ” and that is directional drilling.”

Hearings on the proposed rules will be held at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 10-11, in the Colorado River Room at Two Rivers Convention Center, 159 Main St. in Grand Junction.


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