Arnold Mackley helped Garfield County through tough times

Niki Turner
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Niki Turner/Citizen Telegram
Staff Photo |

After more than 50 years in the oil shale industry, Arnold Mackley is familiar, both personally and professionally, with Garfield County’s place in the global economy.

Oil shale research and production isn’t limited to the county or even the Western Slope. The world is interested in the viability of oil shale as an energy source.

“There are decades and decades of people involved in these projects that are spread out all over,” Mackley said.

His current assignment with American Shale Oil, one of four oil shale research and development projects in the Piceance Basin in Rio Blanco County, has connections with a group in Mongolia.

Estonia, a former member of the U.S.S.R., has used oil shale to generate electricity for decades.

“They are working with one of the RD&D (research, development and demonstration) groups,” Mackley said.

Born and raised in the Clifton area, Mackley was a member of the first graduating class of Central High School in 1950. He attended Mesa College (now Colorado Mesa University), then spent four years in the Navy before he returned home.

“I was laying on the couch, and my mother was looking at the help wanted ads, trying to find me a job,” Mackley said.

There was a position open for an accountant/warehouseman in Parachute. Mackley got the job, working for Stearns Roger Corp.

“That was my introduction to both oil shale and to Garfield County,” he said.

He met his future wife, Darleen, on that job. On their way to their California honeymoon in 1958, they received word that Union Oil had decided to shut down the project. Darleen was laid off, but Arnold was kept on by Stearns Roger. For the next 17 years, he traveled to copper concentrators, uranium mills and oil and gas projects, mostly in the western United States.

“My last project was in Israel,” he said.

With children in the household, the Mackleys decided to stay in one spot after years of moving around about every year to 18 months, and returned to Rifle, where he was thrust into local politics.

“I was appointed by Len Hill and Pete Mattivi to serve on the Garfield County Planning Commission,” Mackley said.

He served there for 14 years, while continuing to work in the oil shale and energy industry.

In 1988, Mackley was elected county commissioner. He served two terms, from 1988-1996.

“The biggest problem the county had at that time was that the Union Oil project left a void of $500 million assessed value overnight,” he recalled. “The county really struggled. There was a lull there of two or three years that the county budget really suffered for lack of assessed value. That’s when we started shutting off the free TV and laying people off. Budgets were really tight at that point.”

Mackley did what he could to help the county through the bust.

“Garfield County has always had some project going on that kept the economy here in the Rifle area fairly healthy,” he said. “There was the highway going through, and the uranium mill tailings project provided a multitude of jobs and lasted several years. During the construction of Glenwood Canyon, most of those who worked on it lived here, and then the construction in Glenwood Springs and Aspen picked up. Then the baking soda projects began to take off, and there was a slow beginning to the oil and gas activity.”

Mackley has worked as a consultant for various oil and gas projects over the years, but as owner of a small cow/calf operation southwest of Rifle, he is well aware of the conflicts between agriculture and energy. He has had to deal with the effects of energy exploration and extraction as a property owner.

“There’s a lot of controversy, but we’ve always been able to work out those issues,” Mackley said. “I think the oil and gas industry as a whole has really tried to do their best. You’ve got the water problems and the controversy over that. I deal with Williams mostly, and they bend over backwards to do water testing and allay those fears.”

“The oil and gas industry has kept this area very healthy again economically,” he continued, “and I think we need to foster that as much as we can to keep that economy satisfied. We need to cooperate with them. I think one of the major concerns is with the strife we have in the Middle East. If that gets shut down and all of a sudden there is a big emergency for crude, we will be just overwhelmed again.”

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