Rifle faces more impacts from energy development | PostIndependent.com

Rifle faces more impacts from energy development

Heidi RiceGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colorado – Expect to see more people in Rifle, fewer available workers, higher housing prices and continued energy development, according to a recently-issued study from the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.”I think for the Rifle and Garfield County area, the energy industry will continue,” said Mike Braaten, government affairs and energy coordinator for the city of Rifle. “Even when the drilling stops, in the city, we’ll see a significant portion of the population living here.”BBC Research and Consulting of Denver analyzed the existing socioeconomic conditions in northwest Colorado and forecast how those conditions may change with future natural gas development. The study was commissioned by Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) with support of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, and it focused on Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.

As one of the major municipalities affected by gas development, the study found Rifle can expect to see continued energy development impacts to not only the city, but businesses and residents. The city is already building new water and wastewater treatment plants and roundabouts to accommodate recent growth. Businesses up and down the valley have found it hard to find adequate help, and housing prices have skyrocketed in the last few years.The study forecasts that the populations within the four-county area will double within the next 30 years.”I think a big piece (for Rifle) is that we’ve got significant needs here that need to be addressed,” Braaten said. “There are economic ramifications. Perhaps there will be another city the size of Grand Junction between Meeker and Rifle.”Whether it’s a new city or new infrastructure, the energy development will continue to have a dramatic effect on the area in the future.”The biggest thing is that there are a lot of challenges across the region that we’re going to have to meet,” said AGNC Director Aron Diaz. “In Garfield County, the amount of growth we’ll be seeing will mean a huge shift in population from east to west, something we’re already seeing in Rifle.”

Before 2000, northwest Colorado had a reasonable cost of living: low housing prices and local tourism that complemented agriculture and hunting, according to the study.Since then, natural gas development has mushroomed into “the most visible change in the region,” the study said.Despite the industry’s high-paying jobs, increased housing prices and a worker shortage has been felt throughout the region, the study found.

The study suggests gas drilling activity in the four-county area will increase through 2015, and then stabilize and diminish through 2035. Gas wells in Garfield County are projected to peak in 2015, then dramatically taper off by 2025. “Over the next two decades, the focus of new well development will shift north from Garfield County to Rio Blanco County,” according to the study.However, maintenance work will continue.”The drilling might go up north, but production and maintenance employees will remain here,” Diaz said. According to the study, there are about 7,500 operating wells in the region, and even with stable drilling activity, an estimated 50,000 additional wells may be drilled over the next 30 years. Drilling activity is expected to change from year to year, depending on changing market conditions and price levels in the region.

The county has already seen a big shift in population from the east end to the west. The study’s baseline scenario has Garfield County’s population growing from nearly 51,000 in 2005 to almost 137,000 by 2035. That will challenge communities to absorb the growth or possibly require new communities to be formed.And while much of the drilling activity is expected to move north, many of the workers may still live in Rifle.”I think we’ll see a large contingent of (workers) still living in Rifle and commuting to Meeker,” Braaten said.To see the full Northwest Colorado Socioeconomic Analysis and Forecasts report, go to http://www.agnc.org.Contact Heidi Rice: 384-9178hrice@postindependent.com

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