County hits a gusher in gas tax revenues |

County hits a gusher in gas tax revenues

Tom Ragan
Special to the Post Independent

In the last five years, tax revenues from the natural gas industry have nearly tripled, said Sean McCourt, oil and gas appraiser for Garfield County Assessor’s Office.

The growth is due to increased drilling and production and higher natural gas prices.

In 2000, Garfield County took in $5 million from taxes associated with gas drilling operations.

In 2001, it collected $10 million.

In 2002, the grand tally was $12 million.

In 2003, revenues again accounted for $12 million.

But this year, revenues could reach as much as $24 million, McCourt said, if natural gas prices stay where they are: high.

Gas is currently selling for $4.30 per million Btu (British thermal units), up from $3.86 in 2003 and $2.29 in 2002.

The 1,669 active wells in the county produced 126.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2003, nearly double the 70 billion cubic feet produced in 2000.

While Bob Utesch, a board member with the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, can’t argue with the economic benefits, he said the long-term effects of drilling can’t be repaired, and that drilling cuts into quality of life in the western half of the county.

“These companies are coming in, they’re drilling holes all over our fields, and in the end they’re going to displace agriculture,” he said. “In fact, they already have. They wave big wads of money under the noses of the farmers and ranchers who can’t resist the temptation. But in the end they’re turning our backyard into one big wasteland.”

Steve Soychak, district manager for Williams Petroleum in Parachute, said for many landowners, royalty payments can help buy new farm and ranch equipment.

“We work very hard with landowners to place wells in places that minimize impacts,” he said. “In many cases, farming can co-exist with gas production. We’re very good with farmers and people we deal with out here.”

What local residents see, Utesch said, is the truck traffic, mud pits, sediment ponds and new roads built for drilling operations.

Not so, said Soychak.

“We camouflage our equipment, and once a rig is gone, all that’s left is a piece of pipe from a well head that’s about 10 feet high, and either an above- or below-ground tank,” he said.

Utesch said while schools districts and the county government benefit, in terms of jobs, most drilling contractors are from out of state.

Soychak estimates the gas industry in Garfield County employs around 1,000 people. Of those, 40 percent are from the county. The next largest group, he said, is from Mesa County, and workers from out of state account for the rest.

Average salaries hover around $50,000 ” twice as much as Garfield County’s average salaries, he said.

“It’s industrial work, and it pays well,” Soychak said. “We attract a lot of people out of high schools here. We do the county and the town of Parachute a service for providing job opportunities for local young men and women.”

Soychak added that all those workers ” local or not ” end up spending millions of dollars in the county for services while they’re here.

Utesch also has concerns over where the natural gas ends up. He said it’s shipped out of state as well.

Soychak said 60 percent of the natural gas produced in Colorado goes out of state, equating the export of Colorado’s natural gas to the export of Texas oil. He said since many states do not have natural gas resources, the gas has to be distributed to those areas, too, and not just to Colorado consumers.

” Staff writer Carrie Click contributed to this report.

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