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My side

You can’t open the paper anymore without seeing an article about natural gas. Gas companies want to drill the Roan Plateau. They want to drill Grand Mesa. They want to decrease their well spacing from 40 acres to 20 acres. They want to build another pipeline. Or retroactively get a permit for one they already finished. Whoops! Clerical oversight.

What’s going on here?

For the past five years, I’ve been studying natural gas issues, visiting drilling rigs, talking to experts, reading industry journals. I’m concerned that Garfield County residents aren’t being told the rest of the story.

Until recently, the belief was that this gas deal would be short-lived. Here today, gone tomorrow. Like a rodeo, where if you can just ride that bull for eight seconds, and slide off without being stomped, life goes back to normal.

That’s a myth. My research suggests that when it comes to methane madness, Garfield County hasn’t seen anything yet. We are in the very early stages of a gas boom that will last 30, 40, maybe 50 years. Before it’s over, an additional 10,000 wells are likely to be drilled in the Piceance Basin.

Over the next half century, gas companies are likely to produce $50 billion worth of natural gas in Garfield County. That’s billion with a “B.”

A recent Oil and Gas Journal article noted that the richest parts of the Rulison Field may yield $500 million of gas per square mile. That’s almost a million dollars an acre. Wells drilled in 2003 are forecast to produce $8 million to $10 million of gas each. Drilling costs? About $1 million. You do the math.

When asked by citizens or county commissioners to mitigate their impacts, EnCana and Williams Energy sometimes play the piker. But these companies are making record profits. Last year, they produced $2 million of Garfield County gas each day. Instead of stiff-arming ranchers, they could afford to rent a plane and fly over Rifle heaving $10 bills out.

As we face the future, let’s be clear about a few things.

Let the big dogs eat. Natural gas companies like to imply that they are mom-and-pop outfits.

“We aren’t Big Oil,” they say. But let’s get real.

EnCana is to mom like a pit bull is to a poodle. This is a highly skilled, technically brilliant Canadian company with operations in the North Sea, Ecuador, the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Wyoming, Alberta, and Colorado. During the third quarter of 2003, the company booked $400 million in profits on sales of $1.4 billion. Its geologists are world class, discovering and unlocking rich plays bigger companies have missed.

Living in the bull’s-eye if you own property anywhere from Silt to De Beque, you are living atop a treasure chest of gas, which means you are living in a target zone. There may be millions of dollars of gas below you, but if you don’t own mineral rights, and most of us don’t, your property values can be hammered by the impacts of gas drilling. They get the money, we get the shaft.

The deck is stacked by state laws, as administered by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, that favor industry. COGCC’s mission isn’t to conserve gas ” it’s to produce it.

In short, this gas deal is a juggernaut. Property rights, peace and quiet, rural tranquility, the Roan Plateau ” the gas dragon is poised to devour them all.

If we don’t organize, get together with our neighbors, join groups like the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, insist on being heard, we’re all going to get steamrolled.

” Randy Udall of Carbondale is the director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, a nonprofit office that works closely with local utilities to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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