Energetic endeavor: Trade group president promotes industry

Chris Clark looks over a map in his office at Laramie Energy in Grand Junction. Clark, Piceance field manager for the company, also serves as president and chairman of the board of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association. Clark expects natural gas production to grow in the region as firms find ways to operate more efficiently. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle
Chris Clark looks over a map in his office at Laramie Energy in Grand Junction. Clark, Piceance field manager for the company, also serves as president and chairman of the board of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association. Clark expects natural gas production to grow in the region as firms find ways to operate more efficiently. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Chris Clark touts the importance of natural gas production because of its role in sustaining modern life — not only burning gas to generate electricity, but also using gas to make the plastics that go into so many products and fertilizers that grow food.

Add to that the contributions of energy exploration and development to economic and community well-being, Clark says — especially in a region like Western Colorado that’s rich in natural resources, but has lagged behind in recovering from the recession.

“I don’t think people have any idea about how many facets of their daily lives are touched.”

It’s a message Clark expects to spread over the next two years as part of his duties as the new president and chairman of the board of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

While energy development and production have declined  in Western Colorado over the years along with commodity prices, Clark says there’s been a recent uptick in activity as companies find more efficient ways to operate. He expects the trend to continue.

Clark succeeds Quint Shear as president of the WSCOGA, a chapter of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. The trade association represents oil and natural gas operators and service companies.

Members also added five people to the board: Steve Heifner of Bulldog Energy Service, Larry Kent with Haliburton, Steve Pudlewski of Enterprise Products, Lindsey Rider of Caerus Oil and Gas and Richard White of SPN Well Services.

Clark brings to the position more than  25 years of experience in the energy industry, most recently as Piceance field manager for Laramie Energy and, before that, Occidental Petroleum. The Denver-based Laramie Energy develops natural gas in the Piceance Basin of Western Colorado, ranking third in the basin in terms of production, reserves and acreage.

“Chris is a long-time industry professional with a lifetime of experience of living on the Western Slope. That means he understands how the natural gas industry works and knows how important the benefits are that we provide in the community,” Shear says. “I look forward to working alongside Chris to continue advancing our association’s mission in the years to come.”

David Ludlam, executive director of the WSCOGA, said Clark joins the leaders who’ve helped sustain the organization through good times and challenges. “Chris has decades of experience in the business, and we look forward to helping achieve his vision for what an optimistic, proactive industry association looks like in Western Colorado.”

Clark grew up in the Grand Valley, but moved to Alaska and initially put his college degree in biology to use as a seasonal employee with the fish and game department in that state.

One off season, Clark says he began working for Haliburton in Prudhoe Bay, the oil field on the northern slope of Alaska. He’s worked in the energy industry ever since.

Clark said the sector brings together people with so many different areas of expertise who are involved in so many different activities. “It’s a very dynamic, very interesting field. …. It’s a new adventure literally every day.”

As Piceance field manager for Laramie Energy, Clark says he oversees production and operation on about 1,500 natural gas in the Piceance Basin. Those wells produce a total of about 150 million cubic feet of gas a day.

Energy development activities in Western Colorado have declined, especially in comparison to the regional boom that proceeded downturns in the energy sector and overall economy, Clark says. But there’s been an uptick an activities recently with slightly higher natural gas prices, he says.

Clark says he expects what he describes as a “pattern of steady growth” to continue as energy companies find more efficient ways to operate and, in doing so, turn a profit despite lower commodity prices.

Advanced technology has helped, Clark says, in drilling and completing more wells more quickly.

Clark says he also expects demand for natural gas to increase as more power plants are switched from coal to gas and as manufacturing increases in an improving economic environment in the United States.

Additional export markets also bolster demand for natural gas, Clark says.

To that end, WSCOGA has supported efforts to construct an export terminal and pipeline that could connect Western Colorado supplies with Asian markets.

The Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas terminal has been proposed for a location on the Oregon coast near Coos Bay. The Pacific Connector Pipeline would connect the terminal to a hub 230 miles away in Malin, Oregon. At an estimated combined cost of $10 billion, the projects would be the largest commercial ventures in Oregon history. The Ruby Pipeline system in turn connects the Malin hub to natural gas supplies in the Western United States, including the Piceance Basin.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied the initial application to construct the terminal and pipeline, citing a lack of demand. But a second filing was submitted earlier this year. FERC has been asked to issue a draft environmental impact statement in 2018 and then issue a decision by the end of next year.

Given the support the Donald Trump administration has signaled, Clark says he’s optimistic the Jordan Cove and Pacific Connector projects will clear regulatory hurdles. But it still could be another five years or more before the facilities are constructed and exporting gas.

In the meantime, the energy sector continues to play an inportant role in Western Colorado, a message Clark says he hopes to spread to a wider audience in his role as president of WSCOGA.

Along with providing natural gas used to generate electricity and make plastics and fertilizers, the industry contributes to the regional economy and communities, he says.

The energy industry provides high-paying jobs for employees who in turn buy homes, cars and other goods. The industry also support a variety of businesses that provide services, he says. “It trickles down to so many different industries inthe community. It’s pretty significant.”

Clark says he’s grateful for the same industry that’s enabled him to pursue a career. “The industry for me has been a blessing.”