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New study refutes previous estimates of Roan Plateau’s gas reserves

Post Independent Writer

A new study by the Wilderness Society questions estimates of gas reserves in the Roan Plateau region, saying the study’s own projections amount to almost 40 times less than Bush administration estimates. By Dennis WebbPost Independent StaffA new study by the Wilderness Society questions estimates of gas reserves in the Roan Plateau region, saying the study’s own projections amount to almost 40 times less than Bush administration estimates.The study, released Wednesday, concludes that 0.4 trillion cubic feet of technical recoverable reserves exist in the Bureau of Land Management’s 127,000-acre Roan Plateau Planning Area. The BLM’s estimate is 15.4 tcf – 38 times higher. The BLM hopes to release a draft management plan for the planning area this fall.Environmentalists say the findings bolster their argument that the plateau top should be protected from drilling.”It looks like somebody’s cooking the books here as a way to pry open the door to gas exploration on top of the Roan Plateau,” said Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, an Aspen-based nonprofit organization that promotes renewable energy and energy efficiency. Udall and Wilderness Society representatives spoke with the media in a conference call Wednesday.Steven Hall, a spokesman with the Bureau of Land Management, said the Wilderness Society has its own motivations driving its study findings.”They are trying to skew numbers to support the point of view that they would like to see on the Roan Plateau,” he said.Hall and Steve Soychak, district manager for Williams Production in Parachute, point to the success that Williams and other gas developers are having in the Colorado River Valley in western Garfield County, below the plateau, as evidence of the potential the plateau has for drilling. Soychak agrees with the Interior Department estimate.”I don’t see how they came up with a lower number,” he said of the Wilderness Society.Dr. Peter Morton, a senior resource economist for the society, said the organization relied on the most recent data from the U.S. Geological Survey, while the BLM estimates are based on 1998 and 1994 reports.The Wilderness Society analyzed 2002 estimates from the USGS for eight assessment units that include the plateau planning area. The units cover different areas and different types of gas in various formations, but all include the plateau planning area. The USGS estimated a total of 5.5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas exists in those units, the society reports.The plateau planning area is only a small part of those units, but even if it was assumed to hold all the gas in the units, that still would be far less than the BLM’s estimates, according to the Wilderness Society.”We … are baffled at the immense and seemingly unlikely size of those (BLM estimates),” said Steve Smith, a Glenwood Springs resident and assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society.Soychak has long estimated that just the top of the plateau, some 45,000 acres, holds 5.5 tcf. So he thinks it’s reasonable to think the larger planning area holds some 15 tcf. A trillion cubic feet of gas is enough to heat as many as a half-million homes for 25 years, according to industry estimates.Soychak said he bases his estimate on gas developers’ experience drilling in the nearby lowlands. There, reserves are about 100 billion cubic feet per square mile, and developers are recovering about 80 percent of the gas in place, he said.The plateau top is about 70 square miles. Soychak said there is no reason to think the geology and gas reserves under the plateau top are that much different from what is now being drilled.Said the BLM’s Hall, “Garfield County is obviously one of the areas in the country where there is an explosion in natural gas production. … Those geological formations exist under the Roan Plateau as well.”Garfield County is now producing about $1 billion worth of gas per year, about a fifth of the state’s total.He said the projections of geologists and industry experts, based on experience, should be given more credence than those of environmentalists with their own agenda.But Udall and the Wilderness Society point to an August Oil & Gas Journal article by three geologists who say that estimated gas reserves in unconventional, sandstone formations such as those holding most of the gas in Garfield County are substantially overestimated. The authors argue that the gas is not as continuously distributed throughout the basins holding them as was previously believed, and the economic risks of finding and developing them have been underestimated.Environmentalists question the economics of drilling on the top of the Roan Plateau, noting that it is some 3,000 feet high, requiring that much more drilling to get to the underground formations holding the gas.”If you ignore economics and the cost of getting the gas out you’re going to dramatically overestimate how much gas is in the ground,” said Morton.Soychak said drilling on the plateau top would cost more, but current high gas prices probably would still make it economically viable. He noted that Williams already has five producing wells on top. Some of the plateau top is on private land.Environmentalists say they don’t oppose drilling elsewhere in the plateau planning area, but think the plateau top and cliffs should be protected for their environmental and recreational values.Morton says that as debate over the Roan Plateau continues, communities that stand to be affected by drilling deserve to be given accurate estimates of the gas reserves at stake. Environmentalists contend that the Bush administration has a history overestimating reserves in areas it targets for drilling.Morton says that as debate over the Roan Plateau continues, communities that stand to be affected by drilling deserve to be given accurate estimates of the gas reserves at stake. Environmentalists contend that the Bush administration has a history overestimating reserves in areas it targets for drilling.


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