Moffat County Commission to meet with Routt County |

Moffat County Commission to meet with Routt County

Joe Moylan

Last week, Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers and county natural resources director Jeff Comstock participated in a tri-state oil shale conference in Vernal, Utah.

The meeting was called by the Uintah County Commissioners to explore available political processes to open up oil shale reserves in the Green River Basin to exploration and production.

Unlike shale oil found in the Niobrara Formation, which is in a liquid state and can be extracted through fracking and horizontal drilling, oil shale is a solid and must be converted to a liquid through the chemical heating process known as pyrolysis.

As in many other parts of the country, local and state officials in Utah have been prohibited from exploring and developing its minerals because of tightening federal regulations and increased uproar from environmentalists.

"They're dealing with the exact same things we have here," Mathers said. "Restrictions similar to the Vermillion Basin, Wilderness Study Areas and environmentalists trying to protect the sage chickens.

"But it really comes down to the Obama administration's green mentality. They feel if they close everything off to fossil fuels, it will force people to accept alternative energies faster."

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Uintah County commissioners invited their counterparts from oil and natural gas-producing regions in Colorado and Wyoming to attend the meeting.

In addition to Moffat County officials, county commissioners from Garfield, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties made the trip to help Uintah County explore options to navigate the red tape or come up with compromises.

"The newest thing they're dealing with in Uintah is the sage grouse issue," Mathers said. "But, it's brand new to them. They don't have any studies. They don't really know anything about it."

Looking around the room, Comstock believed there were enough people from Colorado and Wyoming who were familiar with sage grouse to educate Utah officials about new regulations to protect the bird.

On April 24, Mathers and Comstock will return to Vernal to present data on sage grouse numbers and habitat concerns in Moffat County.

"I wouldn't say we'll be getting up in front of everyone to give a formal presentation," Comstock said. "But, we know a lot about what is going on here in regards to sage grouse and we think we can add valuable information to the conversation."

Before Mathers and Comstock depart for Vernal at the end of the month, the Moffat County Commission will sit down April 10 for a joint meeting with the Routt County Commission at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden to discuss a variety of road projects.

First on the agenda is acquiring waivers for certain trails on the Routt County side of Black Mountain.

The waivers are being sought in conjunction with the multi-county off highway vehicle use plan spearheaded by commissioner Audrey Danner, with the end goal of one day linking Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and Uintah County in Utah by a regional trail system.

The commissioners also need to discuss one-and-a-half miles of Colorado Highway 317 that stretches into Routt County.

Highway 317 was used heavily by Shell Western Exploration and Production, LP to move trucks and equipment to its drilling pads on Harper Hill near Hamilton.

The highway received extensive damage and needs to be repaired, a project SWEPI has pledged to fund if the Colorado Department of Transportation turns the highway into a county road, Mathers said.

Rather than continue to maintain one-and-a-half miles of highway, CDOT has asked the commissioners to find out if Routt County will absorb the short stretch that continues into its jurisdiction.

"We'll probably work something out," Mathers said. "It may come down to trading maintenance services in that area for services in another area that is difficult for them to maintain."

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“They’re dealing with the exact same things we have here. Restrictions similar to the Vermillion Basin, Wilderness Study Areas and environmentalists trying to protect the sage chickens.”

— Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers

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