Analysis: Plateau top drilling could start sooner | PostIndependent.com
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Analysis: Plateau top drilling could start sooner

Dennis Webb

Drilling on the top of the Roan Plateau under a Bureau of Land Management proposal could begin twice as soon as the agency is forecasting, an environmentalist says.Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope field director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said recent natural gas development activity and forecasts suggest drilling could begin on the plateau top in as few as eight years.In its recently released draft management plan for the plateau, the BLM’s preferred alternative proposes delaying drilling on the plateau top until 80 percent of the wells forecast for the rest of the plateau planning area are drilled. The BLM says that threshold could be reached in as little as 10 years, or possibly 20 or more, but likely would be in 16 years.But Kolbenschlag said the BLM bases its threshold projection on 2001 drilling activity by Garfield County’s two major natural gas producers, Williams Production and EnCana Oil & Gas. It assumes that Williams drills about 100 wells per year in the planning area, and EnCana about 200 wells per year in the nearby Grass Mesa/Hunter Mesa area.Drilling activity has increased since then, Kolbenschlag said. Williams is projecting drilling 270 to 300 wells in Garfield County next year, and EnCana 450, he said.The BLM says the drilling threshold that would allow for energy development on the plateau top would be reached when about 2,340 wells are drilled on public and private lands within the 127,000-acre planning area. BLM Glenwood Springs field manager Jamie Connell said in November that some 300 to 400 of those wells already have been drilled. But Kolbenschlag said the agency more recently has told him that figure is now almost 700, leaving about 1,650 wells to be drilled to attain the threshold.The BLM estimates that drilling in the lower planning area will proceed at an average of 148 wells per year. But Kolbenschlag said that is based on recent Williams and EnCana activity, drilling could average 248 wells per year, even based on a conservative estimate.At that pace, the 80 percent threshold could be reached in seven years, and drilling on top could begin a year later, after the BLM has issued leases and prepared for drilling. Duane Spencer, the BLM’s Colorado branch chief in fluid minerals, said it’s important that drilling forecasts are based on activity in the planning area only, and not the surrounding region.But he said Kolbenschlag is right in arguing that the BLM needs to make sure it uses up-to-date figures for both how much drilling already has occurred in the area, and what future activity might be expected.”Pete is obviously correct that if there was much more drilling it would shorten that time frame. … I can’t dispute that at all,” Spencer said.He said he thinks the BLM has a good idea how energy development might proceed on public lands within the planning area, but it’s more difficult to forecast for private lands, which it doesn’t regulate.”It’s hard to project without really getting some input from the industry side as far as what’s happening on the private land,” he said.Spencer said the important thing isn’t so much when the threshold is reached, as it is the very concept of deferring drilling on top until further development occurs below.Environmentalists and municipalities in Garfield County have called for keeping drilling off the top.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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