Panel discusses future of oil, gas development

In front of more than 100 people on both sides of the oil and gas drilling issue, Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock tried to emphasize what he saw as the importance of drilling in Moffat County.

"This economy is looking at 60 to 80 million in infrastructure in the next 10 years," he said. "How do we get that money? Oil and gas development pays the bills in Moffat County."

He said $4.9 million in revenue came to the county through oil and gas revenues in 2001.

"That doesn't even count our energy companies," he said.

That accounts for another $2 million, he said.

About 68 percent of Moffat County tax revenue comes from the energy producers, he said.

He then put in a plug for the Moffat County Pilot Project Proposal, which outlines a process in which local governments and boards have more say in what occurs on land within Moffat County borders.

"Let's drop the policies and look at what's best for the resources and the local economy," he said. "That's what the Pilot Project is all about."

Comstock's words were delivered during a panel discussion on how public lands should be approached for oil and gas development.

The panel discussion was part of the "Our Land, Our Rights: A Community Forum on the Future of Oil & Gas in Northwest Colorado" held all day Saturday at the Center of Craig.

Counties, environmental groups, oil and gas industries and Bureau of Land Management officials were all represented at the conference, sponsored by several environmental groups including the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Western Colorado Congress.

Three forums and several workshop discussions were held throughout the day.

Representatives on one side stressed the importance of drilling for oil and gas, while representatives on the other side stressed the dangers of uncontrolled drilling.

Those who monitor drilling processes also spoke on the protocol and requirements that must be followed when drilling on public and private land.

Randy Udall, of the Community Office for Resource efficiency, delivered the keynote address discussing the future of oil and gas drilling.

"Oil and gas companies are ready to take a look at what's out there," he said. "In a lot of these basins you have to drill through 10,000 to 20,000 feet of sediment below the surface. There is a lot of prospective area in the west that has not begun to be drilled or explored."

Forums like the one held Saturday are important, he said.

"Natural gas has been taken out of the Rockies for decades but it's really taken off in the last 15 to 20 years," he said. "There's no right or wrong answer. There's some balancing that needs to take place. It's going to take meetings like this. Communities need more local control of what happens and it's going to take discussions like this for that to happen."

Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, said the future of oil and gas development lies in Northwest Colorado.

"Northwest Colorado is a very important part of the state for the development of oil and gas," he said during a discussion on the impacts of oil and gas development. "We believe we can bring natural gas and oil to the market in an environmentally responsible manner."

But Steve Bonowski, a member of the Colorado Mountain Club, said the recreation rich state of Colorado could be negatively impacted by widespread development.

"We definitely need energy," he said. "I drove a car to get here, but as always there's a devil in the details.

"There's a downside oil and gas drilling has on local economies, and that's the effect it has on outdoor recreation profits."

La Plata County Commissioner Josh Joswick, whose county has been involved in several lawsuits with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, offered words of warning for Northwest Colorado residents.

"The development of oil and gas in our county has resulted in the radicalizing of the community," he said. "That's what happens when people get run over. The feeling in our community has been that the federal government is irresponsible and overwhelming."

But the community has learned and become more educated on what it's rights are, he said.

"It's the single biggest reason we've gotten better cooperation with he industry," he said. "But it's been a fight."

Both sides had a say throughout the day long forum, which was the purpose of the event, said organizer Jennifer Seidenberg of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

"Our goal is to get people involved in these decisions that are going to change the face of the community for generations," she said. "We hope this forum is a kick-off for the future in which people become more involved."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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