Ralph Cantafio, an area attorney who specializes in mineral leases and land use agreements, discusses the future of oil and natural gas exploration in Moffat County during a presentation Monday night. Thirty-one residents attended the seminar, titled “Trends in Oil and Gas Affecting Northwest Colorado.”

Photo by Joe Moylan

Ralph Cantafio, an area attorney who specializes in mineral leases and land use agreements, discusses the future of oil and natural gas exploration in Moffat County during a presentation Monday night. Thirty-one residents attended the seminar, titled “Trends in Oil and Gas Affecting Northwest Colorado.”

Area attorney discusses oil and gas trends at Craig seminar

“It is economically and politically insane to continue to depend on foreign countries for our energy needs. Because of new technologies, our domestic oil and natural gas reserves are growing.”

Ralph Cantafio

Craig and Steamboat Springs attorney, during his Monday night presentation

Ralph Cantafio, an area attorney who specializes in mineral leases and land use contracts, said the future of oil and gas in Craig and Moffat County has the potential to significantly change the community.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if this place looked completely different in 20 years,” he said.

Cantafio, who has offices in Craig and Steamboat Springs, hosted a free public presentation Monday night at the Holiday Inn of Craig called “Trends in Oil and Gas Affecting Northwest Colorado.”

Thirty-one people attended the presentation, which centered on the future of oil and gas development in Moffat County.

“Who’s involved in the land play here in Northwestern Colorado? Absolutely everyone,” Cantafio said.

The allure of the area, he said, is the Niobrara formation that touches parts in Moffat, Routt, Jackson and Weld counties.

Niobrara is believed to hold some of the country’s largest mineral reserves, but has been largely untapped because of a layer of shale that has trapped oil and natural gas deposits more than a mile below the surface.

It wasn’t cost effective to drill Niobrara vertically in the past, Cantafio said, but the advent of horizontal drilling was a game changer.

Now, he said, companies can build a single oil pad and access reserves two, three and four miles away.

However, Cantafio said he doesn’t expect to see drills popping up all over the region just yet.

“Right now, we are at the very, very end phase of the land play and the very, very first part of the scientific accumulation piece of the process,” he said.

Technological advancements in exploration are also playing a role in the oil and natural gas activity in the region, he said.

“Two-D, 3D and 4D seismic mapping has allowed the industry to identify potential mineral reserves down to a tenth of a degree,” Cantafio said.

Craig appears to be an ideal location for mineral production because of its logistical characteristics, Cantafio said.

“We have a lot of large land parcels,” he said. “It is much easier for a company to engage in lease agreements for 4,000 acres rather than 10 acres here and 40 acres there.”

Roads also play a part in mineral exploration.

“Once upon a time, U.S. Highway 40 was an important east/west route for the country,” Cantafio said. “Roads here may have to be modified, but that is a whole lot more attractive than having to build all new highways.”

Cantafio attributes the resurgence in domestic oil and natural gas exploration to a number of other factors as well, including alternative energy technologies that aren’t as sophisticated yet, the recession and state of the national economy, and international political instability, particularly in oil-producing countries.

“We hear a lot about Iraq and Afganistan in the media,” Cantafio said. “We don’t hear so much about Mexico, which is a huge oil-producing country, and Nigeria, which both seem to be ripe for dramatic political change.”

Alternative energy sources such as solar and wind are distant dreams right now, Cantafio said.

“Solar power contributes less than 3 percent to our energy consumption,” Cantafio said. “I believe alternative energy technology will improve in our lifetimes, but it just isn’t there yet. That’s why the conversation keeps cycling back to oil and natural gas.

“Long term, natural gas is the preferred form of energy in the United States … without a doubt.”

The Obama administration seems to be getting the message, Cantafio said, citing the federal government’s recent leasing of 112,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management public land in Wyoming for mineral exploration.

“It is economically and politically insane to continue to depend on foreign countries for our energy needs,” Cantafio said. “Because of new technologies, our domestic oil and natural gas reserves are growing.”

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