Community Counts stays active despite decline in oil and gas activity last year

Garfield County commits to $10,000 partnership for another year

A continued decline in natural gas industry activity in Garfield County resulted in fewer members and fewer complaints from residents over the past year for Community Counts Colorado.

But, the nonprofit organization that partners with Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties to serve as a liaison between residents, landowners and Piceance Basin oil and gas operators still had a productive year, Executive Director Nita Smith reported to Garfield County commissioners this week.

“Community Counts was fortunate to lose just six members last year, with a current membership of 62,” Smith said.

One big change in Garfield County was the sale of Ursa Resources holdings in the Piceance Basin to Terra Energy Partners following Ursa’s September 2020 bankruptcy filing.

That wasn’t the only change of hands among operators in the region — changes that could ultimately result in a loss of $7,500 in memberships, Smith said.

“Community Counts will work with these operators that have acquired these other assets to help with this loss, but that won’t be possible until operations have stabilized,” she said. That could take another year, Smith said.

Meanwhile, Garfield County commissioners unanimously approved the county’s $10,000 commitment to remaining part of Community Counts for 2021.

Community Counts provides a toll-free, 24/7 response line (866-442-9034) for the public to reach out directly to operators in the region with any questions or complaints, or to coordinate around any industry activities that are planned.

In 2020, the number of concerns raised through the network was down due to the slowing of new drilling activity, Smith said.

For the year, there were three noise complaints related to the use of truck jake brakes, one odor complaint, one complaint about a gate being left unlocked and a rancher’s cows getting into a wellpad site, and one county road issue.

While Garfield County started last year with three active drill rigs, that number dropped to two in the spring and as of year end it was down to one. However, one rig has been operating back and forth across the Garfield and Rio Blanco county line, said Kirby Wynn, oil and gas liaison for Garfield County, who sits on the Community Counts board.

The organization was also active last year during the summer wildfire season, working with fire management teams related to several fires that burned near natural gas sites in all three counties, Smith said.

“The Pine Gulch and Grizzly Creek fire teams provided daily updates on the fires, as did CDOT (regarding) the I-70 closure due to the Grizzly Creek Fire …,” she said in her report.

When I-70 was shut down in Glenwood Canyon in early August and Colorado Highway 13 north of Rifle became one of the alternate routes, Community Counts worked with CDOT to let them know that holding traffic on Highway 13 due to construction work would become an issue for industry traffic and other motorists.

“They in turn related this information to the engineers, who decided that evening to not to hold traffic till I-70 opened,” Smith said.

The Community Counts board meets the third Wednesday of every other month starting at 3:30 p.m., normally at Parachute Town Hall. However, meetings have been conducted via video conference during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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