Energetic role: Communication, education priorities for trade group leader

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Doug Dennison has spent a large portion of his career working with local government entities and the public on issues involving energy exploration and production.

It’s a role Dennison expects to continue as the newly elected president of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association (WSCOGA). Communication and education remain priorities for a Grand Junction-based trade group that represents most oil and natural gas operators as well as service companies in the region, he says.

The outlook for an important component of the economy remains bright as advancing technologies bolster not only production, but also efficiency, Dennison says. The industry also faces challenges, though, in lower prices, regulatory constraints and gaining access to public lands.

Despite concerns from some quarters, energy production and environmental protection do go together, he adds. “It can be done right and it is being done right every day.”

Dennison will serve a two-year term as president of WSCOGA, succeeding Jim West. Susan Alvillar, a community affairs representative for WPX Energy, was selected president elect.

Dennison works as an environmental and governmental affairs liaison for Bill Barrett Corp.,

Doug Dennison, right, the newly elected president of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, meets with David Ludlam, executive director of the Grand Junction-based energy industry trade group. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

a Denver-based energy company with operations in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Dennison says he works with government entities on land use and other issues associated with Barrett operations.

Prior to joining Barrett, Dennison worked for what’s now Olsson  Associates, a consulting firm that serves as the energy industry, as well as Occidental Petroleum, an international oil and gas exploration and production company.

Dennison also worked as a liaison in Garfield County between the energy industry and public, helping to answer questions and resolve conflicts. “Most of it was just getting people to talk to each other.”

While he started his career in the energy industry, Dennison worked for 20 years as an environmental consultant, handling groundwater and contamination issues.

He earned a geology degree from Western State College in Gunnison, where he grew up.

Dennison describes the WSCOGA as a growing trade organization that promotes the energy industry in the region. The WSCOGA is a chapter of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.

Over the past two years, the West Slope group has focused on communicating with and educating what Dennison calls “stakeholders,” including government entities, agricultural producers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and the public. He expects that focus to continue during his term as president. “It’s just more of what we’ve been doing and strengthening our relationships with key stakeholders.”

After a sharp decline in energy exploration and production in Western Colorado that corresponded with the onset of the recession, activity has rebounded over the past two years, Dennison says. Activity remains slower than the frenzied pace of the boom days before the recession, but steady nonetheless, he adds. “This area still has quite a bit going on and I think the outlook is still pretty positive.”

That’s an important trend, he says, because of the economic contributions of the energy industry in terms of jobs as well as tax revenues.

Technological advances have not only increased oil and natural gas production in Western Colorado and other areas of the United States, but made operations far more efficient, Dennison says. Hydraulic fracturing and directional and horizontal drilling techniques have tapped substantial new reserves.

The energy industry continues to face challenges, though, related to commodity prices, technical and legal considerations, regulatory constraints and access to public lands. “There’s a lot of moving parts,” he says.

Dennison says he’s personally concerned there’s no coherent national policy given increasing demand that will require energy from fossil fuels as well as such renewable sources as solar and wind power. “There’s a need for all sources of energy.”

Even as hydraulic fracturing has made it possible for the energy industry to release oil and gas from sand and shale rock formations, the practice has become a major issue, Dennison says.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracing, creates small fractures in underground formations that allow oil and natural gas to flow into a well and on to the surface. During the fracing process, a mixture of water, sand and additives are pumped under high pressure into rock formations to create the fractures.

While some groups try to blame groundwater contamination on fracturing, Dennison disputes that connection. In most cases, fracturing occurs thousands of feet below groundwater, a distance separated by nonporous rock formations.

In those instances in which contamination has occurred, the far more likely cause is a break in the steel and cement casings around an oil or natural gas well, he says. Regulations have been implemented to raise the standards for well casing and testing, he adds.

Moreover, water and sand account for more than 99 percent of the fluids used for fracturing, Dennison says. A small proportion of additives are used as lubricants and to kill bacteria, he says.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association was supportive of new state regulations that require disclosure of the names and concentrations of chemicals in fracturing, he says. Many companies already post information about the chemicals they use in fracturing at www.fracfocus.org., a national chemical registry Web site

While companies are allowed to claim some ingredients as proprietary trade secrets, they still must disclose the chemical families of those ingredients.

With the new rules, Colorado imposes some the most stringent fracturing regulations in the country, Dennison says.

Despite claims from some quarters to the contrary, the energy industry remains committed to environmental protection, he adds.

That’s why communication and education remain priorities for the WSCOGA and Dennison says he looks forward to his continued role in that process.