Moffat County Commissioner Chuck Grobe is headed to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to testify on behalf of the county’s oil and gas industry and job creation.
“I’m trying to go and testify on job formation through natural gas and oil,” Grobe said.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s office invited Grobe to testify Thursday before the Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade. Tipton is chairman of the subcommittee.
“I think the rural aspect to his testimony is critical, and that’s why he’s coming here,” said Josh Green, public relations director for Tipton’s office. “That’s why Tipton chose Chuck Grobe. He’s going to be able to provide that Colorado aspect.”
The hearing is titled, “The New Energy Paradigm: Its Potential for Small Businesses and the Economy.” The basic theme is for lawmakers to discuss how energy exploration could help fuel rural economies and small business growth, including restaurants, hotels, retail and housing, Green said.
Grobe plans to highlight many items in his testimony, including that Moffat County potentially is losing $700 million in natural gas drilling — roughly $25 million of which would benefit the county — due to not tapping into the natural gas resource at Vermillion Basin, he said.
The Vermillion Basin is a 77,000-acre stretch of desert that has 200 billion cubic feet of natural gas, Grobe outlines in his written testimony.
“Over a decade ago, and very early in the Bureau of Land Management’s planning process, Moffat County Commissioners acknowledged the environmental values of Vermillion Basin as well as its natural gas potential,” his testimony states. “Moffat County proposed to protect those environmental values while encouraging the local economy through natural gas development, having only the absolute highest reclamation standards known to work in the high desert ecosystems of the Vermillion Basin.”
The plan to drill was squashed by Washington politics, Grobe states.
“We’re not allowed to do any drilling on BLM land, which is public land, and recoup the reserve that is there,” Grobe said.
Several environmental groups fought against drilling the basin, including The Wilderness Society.
In 2011, the group posted on its website that the “Vermillion Basin, a little-known treasure that Colorado citizens and our supporters have campaigned to protect in Colorado’s western canyon country, is now officially protected from what once seemed imminent oil and gas drilling.”
That group, and many others, was happy that drilling fell through in the area.
Grobe’s testimony highlights that of the 3 million acres of land in Moffat County, 60 percent is federal land that can’t be explored for oil and gas.
“Despite the good news of jobs and new revenues on the horizon, the promise of prosperity for rural Western Colorado is obstructed by a very dark cloud,” Grobe wrote.
His testimony also states that uncertainty and unnecessary federal regulations put jobs in jeopardy.
“To demonstrate how companies desire to avoid regulation, in Northwest Colorado, the Niobrara shale-oil project has been heavily explored for the last couple years. The Niobrara oil resource straddles Routt and Moffat (counties) equally,” Grobe states.
Grobe pointed out the significant disparity in how the two neighboring counties have reacted to oil and gas drilling, specifying that Moffat County already has tapped into 20 Niobrara wells, while Routt County drilled one well.
“Given the equal geologic opportunity to explore the Niobrara oil resource, one would expect a similar number of wells in Routt County,” Grobe said, noting that Routt County is one of the most regulatory restrictive counties in the state from an energy exploration perspective.
The issue is not black and white, and Grobe highlights that throughout his testimony.
What is evident, he states, is that the oil and gas industries create jobs and fuel Moffat County's economy and many other counties in Colorado.
Noelle Leavitt Riley can be reached at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.