We got gas: Moffat County’s natural gas awaits export to global markets
Editor’s note: This report has been edited to reflect Jordan Cove’s environmental impact study might be completed in October.
Moffat County is officially a player in a major natural gas export plan spanning several western states all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The Moffat County Board of County Commissioners joined a memorandum of understanding April 11 with the Western States and Tribal Nations Gas Initiative (WSTN) — which now includes the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development, Wyoming Governor’s Office, the Colorado counties of Garfield, Mesa, Moffat, and Rio Blanco and the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservations. According to a copy of the MOU obtained by the Craig Press, the initiative is laying the ground work to educate residents that they may “better understand the full resource potential” of natural gas deposits in the Uintah and Piceance Basins, the latter of which includes much of southern Moffat County.
The MOU comes a few months after the state of Colorado’s Energy Office essentially abandoned its support of the initiative soon after Gov. Jared Polis took office — leaving individual counties to pick up where the state left off. WSTN’s initiative seeks to connect a series of new and existing pipelines in western states that would take natural gas all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The pipeline would end at Jordan Cove plant in Oregon, feeding a new liquid natural gas refining operation there for shipment to West Coast and Asian markets.
“We met with a Japanese representative that we’ve met a couple times in the past,” Commissioner Don Cook said of a recent trip he took to Washington D.C.
Commissioners said the parent company behind the project, Pembina Pipeline Corporation, wants to ship liquid natural gas globally while mostly avoiding the Panama Canal.
Beck said the pipeline project is already dealing with some 670 landowners.
Most of the natural gas will come from Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, Cook said.
The initiative is being bolstered by two studies released this month showing Moffat County may be sitting on a seriously large deposit of untapped natural gas — and mostly unused pipeline infrastructure that can be interconnected for delivery to market.
According to a report released this month by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), growing global demand for natural gas coupled with excess pipeline capacity in the region means Moffat County and others in the area “can access West Coast U.S. markets and potential LNG export facilities in a more efficient, cost-effective manner than nearly any other conventional or shale natural gas producer in the U.S.”
The CEA report takes a global perspective on natural gas production and export — noting the U.S. and its “shale revolution” brought by fracking and horizontal drilling has made it into one of the world’s most prolific natural gas producers.
The report details how natural gas production in Moffat County has averaged about 19 billion cubic feet per year from 2000 until 2012 when the area’s production began to fall. Natural gas production in the entire region has been falling since about 2008, according to the report, leaving more than half of the region’s natural gas pipeline capacity sitting unused as of 2016.
To move natural gas from areas like Moffat County to the West Coast, the report suggests WSTN establish itself as a non-profit 501(c)(4) with board members from a broad range of stakeholders — the tribal nations, counties, state and federal agencies whose expertise will be needed to “to create a transparent, engaged process that builds a wide-reaching coalition of support.”
A second study conducted by Nathan Perry, a Colorado Mesa University economics professor, has a more local and specific outlook on the potential for jobs and economic impact on the Western Slope.
“The oil and gas industry contributes $1,083,361,743 to the regional GDP,” Perry’s report says. “The high wages this industry pays resonate with multiplier effects that support 3,478.9 jobs by spending alone. Counting supply chain effects and the direct employment numbers, the industry contributes or causes 10,959 jobs in the Western Slope. Along with healthcare, retail trade, and construction, the oil and gas industry is one of the top contributors to the local economy, measuring at 9.2% of gross regional product.”
Though only a portion of the proposed natural gas pipeline will cross Moffat County, Commissioner Beck said the estimated $1.5 billion construction cost may provide a host of economic benefits over the long term. He said an environmental impact study for the Jordan Cove project probably won’t be done until October.
“Hopefully, it will be a great economic impact,” Beck said.