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Gas industry keeps ranch alive

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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BATTLEMENT MESA – Natural gas development may appear to be strange bedfellows, but for a Battlement Mesa man they work well together.Rancher Scott Nocks has found new money in the royalties he receives from gas development on his property and has used it to keep his fields in production and his cattle fed.Nocks, who owns a portion of the mineral rights on his 150-acre ranch near Wallace Creek west of Battlement Mesa, has contracted with Noble Energy to extract the natural gas from under his ranch for a share of the profits.”So many of the horror stories we have heard about severed mineral rights (where surface owners have no say in gas development on their land because they do not own the mineral rights) also have another side to the coin,” he said. “This flip side is that many of the beautiful hay fields and pastures which border rural residential development would not be there if it weren’t for this new ranch-grown product called ‘natural gas.'”Nocks, who raises pure-bred Dexter cattle, an Irish breed, and hay, has used the financial gain from his royalties to install a large-scale irrigation system that has kept his hay field green.

As a member of the board of directors of the Bookcliff Conservation District, Nocks also hopes to partner the districts with energy companies to ensure agriculture remains a viable part of the local economy.”We are trying to be a good neighbor,” said Noble Energy land manager Al Bollen, who said the company has worked with landowners like Nocks to position drilling rigs. “We’ve made some mistakes and we’re trying to learn from them.”Nocks received financial assistance for the irrigation system from the program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), which provides assistance to farmers and ranchers who face threats to their soil, water air and related natural resources. EQIP is a federal program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has an office in Glenwood Springs and works with the conservation districts on agricultural programs.Increased demand for land to subdivide for homes has eaten away at ranch and farm land in western Colorado. In fact, land, not crops or livestock, are a rancher’s most valuable commodity.”No matter how much one loves the land and finds solace in his herd of cows, it is no longer possible to keep and maintain these mountain ranches without money from other sources,” Nocks said.

Many of those who retained their mineral rights as they sold off their land to survive have become millionaires, Nocks said. The benefit now is that they have the financial wherewithal to apply for the cost-sharing EQIP program to install irrigation systems and pipelines on their property. “Royalty payments now make the bottom line on these ranches look much brighter for those owners who were wise enough to keep severed mineral rights of the parcels he was forced to sell to keep part of his ranch,” Nocks said.As much as Nocks has reaped the benefit of natural gas development, he also regrets some of the changes in the land that have come about from burgeoning gas development.”There are five energy companies operating in the area,” he said. “It’s madness. You don’t know who’s going to knock on your door wanting a chunk of your land.”



On a tour of the areas served by the conservation districts Wednesday, Nocks pointed out areas that have been taken out of agricultural production because of natural gas exploration.”That’s what I don’t like to see,” he said. Where gas companies have bought land outright for production, rather than leasing what were once large productive hay fields are now lying fallow.”This was premium land that is no longer under production, which is what I don’t want to see because we’re getting invasive weeds,” he said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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