Oil drilling potential for Vermillion Basin could be significant, not guaranteed

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— By BRIDGET MANLEY

Daily Press writer

An ancient seaway once ran in a wide swath down the middle of the North American continent about 100 million years ago, said Fred Julander, Julander Energy Co. founder, on Friday afternoon.

The oil, a residue of that long-vanished seaway, was what brought Julander and representatives from two other oil extracting companies to Craig this week.

In addition to Julander, officials from Questar Exploration and Production Co. and Pioneer Natural Resources presented reports from their respective energy companies during Friday's session at the Fueling Thought Energy Summit 2008 at the Holiday Inn of Craig.

Their findings indicated that for at least one company, the opportunity for oil extraction in Northwest Colorado could be significant.

However, large payoffs aren't guaranteed.

Such is the case in Vermillion Basin, a tract of land in the county's northwest region that extends into Wyoming and Utah.

Questar, which operates oil wells in the region, gave a rough estimate of how many wells the company would drill in the area per a mandate from the Bureau of Land Management.

Intial estimates topped out at about 4,208 wells, said J. Paul Matheny, vice president of the company's Rocky Mountain division.

However, drillings so far have indicated that oil extraction in the available areas is hit-and-miss.

Some wells in the area are producing significant amounts of gas, Matheny said.

Some others, however, are "real stinkers" that have produced less than expected, he said.

As a result, estimates on the total wells the company could drill in the area have dropped, he said.

Access to the area could be limited in the future.

Last year, Harris Sherman, Colorado Department of Natural Resources director, recommended that no drilling take place in Vermillion Basin for the next 15 to 20 years.

He gave his suggestion after Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar made an unannounced fly-over of the region last year.

Matheny estimated Vermillion Basin could hold up to 1 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Julander said developing more oil in Moffat County could come with rewards including federal mineral lease revenues benefiting education and an average of 40 new jobs at each oil rig.

Nonetheless, he believes oil extraction in any area doesn't come without a price.

"There is no silver bullet, no free lunch special," he said. "There's a cost."

The amount of oil extraction companies can provide is limited by promises those company make with stakeholders, Julander said, including those who are concerned about drilling on environmentally sensitive lands.

"Society will have to decide what cost it wants to bear," he said.

Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com

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