Editorial: Proceed with caution
March 8, 2013
Shell Oil’s acknowledgement that some its wells here haven’t produced as expected should give some pause to anyone expecting an imminent boom for Moffat County
Most longtime Moffat County residents don't need a reminder, but they got one anyway last week: the boom-and-bust cycle of energy exploration is as unpredictable as Northwest Colorado weather, and any forecast suggesting otherwise ought to be approached with caution.
Shell Oil officials confirmed last week what Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers hinted during his State of the County address in February — most of their wells in the county haven't been productive. As a result, the energy giant plans to begin using hydraulic fracturing to see whether they can coax oil from the depths of the Niobrara Shale formation that runs through our part of the state.
None of this is to say the latest energy play in Moffat County won't still produce quantities of oil and gas that will reap significant financial benefits for both energy companies and area residents. Indeed, Shell officials said they plan to move forward with the drilling of between 20 and 25 additional wells in Moffat County this year.
But Shell's acknowledgement that production from some of its first wells here haven't performed up to expectations should, at the very least, temper any hopes of a sudden energy boom. It also should send a message of caution to local businesses and governments about counting on revenues and economic opportunities that may or may not come during the next couple of years.
Energy plays are unpredictable by their very nature, as Moffat County has learned well over the decades. And because they're undependable, we should consider their economic impacts as a bonus, but not as a reliable source of revenue. Unlike our coal mines and power plant, oil fields don't tend to require the same level of stable, ongoing workforces.
As this editorial board has said before, now continues to be the time for local governments and businesses to plan for potential growth so as to be prepared to deal with the impacts of the boom, if and when it happens. We also must remember the wonderful natural resources that already exist here and represent a significant portion of our economy — wildlife, rivers, agricultural lands, coal mines and open space. They'll remain a foundation of Moffat County's way of life long after the next boom comes and goes.