Officials unsure if expected oil and gas boom will impact local economy

Although Colorado is expecting a record-breaking boom year in oil drilling, it's unclear if Moffat County will enjoy the windfall.

According to a Colorado Oil and Gas Commission poll of 600 oil and gas companies active in Colorado, a record 2,500 drilling permits are expected to be issued in 2004. The previous record of 2,378 permits was set in 1980.

Only four new drilling permits have been filed in Moffat County this year and those permits are still under review by the Oil and Gas Commission. Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock said he would need "a crystal ball" to predict what drilling would be like here in 2004.

Wexpro Company has already applied for two drilling permits, and company representatives said they expect to apply for two more.

But Krista Mutch, director of government affairs at Western Gas Resources, Inc., said her company, which holds the leading acreage in the Powder River Basin, does not plan to obtain new holdings in 2004. She said the media has been portraying 2004 as a year where gas and oil drilling will increase all over Colorado, and that isn't the case.

Mutch said Western Gas would continue to develop what already exists in Northwest Colorado, but won't actively investigate new wells.

As natural gas prices have climbed to an all-time high, drilling companies have been hurrying to make a profit. Last week, the price of gas reached $7 per thousand cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In 2003, oil and gas companies applied for 2,245 drilling permits. Sixty-five of those permits were for wells in Moffat County.

Those wells produced 253,059 gallons of oil and 15,886,564 million cubic feet of gas. That's just a fraction of the 110,607,787 million cubic feet of gas produced in Garfield County, the fastest growing gas supplier in the state since wells have been sunk in the Roan Plateau. The Roan Plateau is estimated to contain one-third of Colorado's gas reserves.

Statewide, a record 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day was produced in 2003.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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