Gas exploration could be good for Craig

EDP director: City in favorable position for economic growth

The newest member of the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership made a presentation at the monthly meeting of the organization at the Holiday Inn on Wednesday.

Jay Still, executive vice president of Pioneer Natural Resources western division focused his discussion on the exploration for gas in Moffat County.

Pioneer Natural Resources, based in Dallas, has 1,500 employees, with about one-third of them working in Colorado.

Its biggest project in the state is near Trinidad, in Las Animas County. There, the company has 400 employees, along with 350 contractors.

Still said that he doesn't expect the company's operations to grow to that size in Moffat County because the natural gas basin is bigger near Trinidad. He said the size of the work force depends on what the exploration drilling finds west of town.

Pioneer's project west of Craig near the town of Lay is looking at results from two pilot wells that have been drilled recently, along with the 16 wells already in the county.

Plans are in the works for 10 additional wells to be drilled in October, but it can take up to two years to determine whether a well will be productive, Still said.

When asked about a prognosis on drilling in Moffat County by EDP Vice Chairman Jerry Thompson, Still said the project is "looking good" and producing gas right now.

Pioneer's water plant became operational recently, and because water is an important ingredient in gas production, the productivity of the project is still to be determined.

Although gas production takes time to develop, once producing, the wells can be in operation for 30 to 40 years, Still said. Gas will be transported from the well sites via pipeline to where the demand is greatest in the United States.

The Lay Creek water processing plant uses filters and reverse osmosis to treat 10,000 barrels of water a day, Still said. One thousand barrels are injected into the coal seams every day to help gas flow out of the coal. At the surface, the water and gas are separated, with the gas being captured and piped away.

"How you handle the water is very important," Still said. "We are working with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and using settling ponds before treating the water in the treatment plant."

Aquifers near the surface are protected during the drilling process by casing the drill hole with concrete and steel pipe early in the drilling process, Still said.

He said that the county is affected in many ways that are not as noticeable to the public as the well sites.

Workers on the project have an average salary of $54,000 per year, much of which is spent in the local community. Starting wages on the project are $15 an hour.

Still said the company contributes to road maintenance and plowing of the roads to the well sites in the winter, as well as company workers being first responders to medical and fire emergencies in the remote areas in the county. During a brush fire, the company has a large number of water trucks available to local fire-fighting crews.

EDP director Tim Gibbs said that Craig is poised to benefit from the exploration project.

"With the oil and gas development west of town, and the down-valley impact from Steamboat reaching here, we are in a good position for economic growth," Gibbs said. "We have the infrastructure improvements in place, with the doubling, of the water treatment plants capacity, and the work force development taking place at the college. We're working on getting a good living wage here."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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