Gas industry can afford to do more |

Gas industry can afford to do more

The numbers are as jarring as a diamond drill bit churning through sandstone to tap another natural gas well in Garfield County:

– In the next decade, 5,000 to 10,000 new wells may be drilled in the county.

– Current gas production in the county is approaching a value of $1 billion a year. That’s half the value of the state’s skiing industry, and a fifth of all production in a state that is the nation’s sixth-largest gas producer.

Such numbers, reported in a series in the Post Independent last week, should be enough to capture the attention of anyone not already closely watching an industry that is transforming the county and region.

Many are aware of how residents near gas drilling are impacted by industrial operations that cause noise, visual blight, truck traffic, air pollution, and lately even contaminated water supplies. So what are the county and its residents getting in return? Not enough, to judge by the amount of wealth being pumped out of the county.

Certainly, the industry has had positive economic impacts. Tax collections within the county from the industry could reach $25 million this year, compared to $5 million in 2000.

The industry also produces some high-paying jobs, and generates royalties and severance taxes. The industry estimates that state and local revenues from about $2.83 billion in oil and gas revenues in 2000 totaled $125 million. But the local economic benefits haven’t been enough to offset the negative impacts.

Getting more from the industry, in terms of sharing the wealth and reducing the impacts, isn’t easy. State law currently favors extracting the gas out of the ground over protecting the interests of people living on the surface. And it will be hard to do too much to better protect the rights of owners of surface rights without facing threats of takings lawsuits from owners of underground gas rights.

But surface owners have rights, too, and they’re not being fully protected. The industry would be well-served to try to better mitigate impacts in Garfield County and other drilling hot spots. It certainly can afford to do more. If too many people are pushed too far, they will demand and achieve reforms that will go much further to limit drilling than might occur if energy developers cooperatively sought to resolve problems now.

Some voluntary cooperation by the industry already is occurring. And some reforms already have resulted from public pressure, even with state laws and regulations so favorable to the industry.

Meanwhile, lest we complain too much about drilling, we all must acknowledge our roles as heavy consumers of energy in its various forms, including natural gas. The price of natural gas is high for a reason: demand that is exceeding supply. And while we complain about a lot of local gas being shipped to places such as California, some of it also goes right to the homes of area residents.

All energy sources have to come from somewhere. It just happens to be that in the case of natural gas, that somewhere is turning out to be here.

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