West Slope groups voice support for drilling project

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

A group of Western Colorado business and trade associations support a master plan for a proposed natural gas drilling project in the North Fork Valley of Delta County.

Representatives from the Delta Chamber of Commerce, Piceance Energy Action Council and West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association conducted a joint press conference in Delta to voice their support for the Bull Mountain project and what they described as a crucial economic development effort for the region.

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Club 20 also support the proposal, but didn’t participate in the press conference.

The 150-well drilling project has been proposed for an area about 30 miles northeast of Paonia. The plan calls for 146 natural gas wells and four water disposal wells on up to 36 well pads, along with related roads, pipelines and other construction. The unit consists of  nearly 19,700 acres, 98 percent of which is privately owned surface land. The mineral rights beneath the unit are under a mix of private and federal government ownership, however.

SG Interests, a privately owned oil and natural gas exploration and production company located in Houston, has proposed the development. The company holds oil and gas assets in the Piceance Basin in Western Colorado as well as in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico and in Southeast Texas.

“We support the Bull Mountain project not only because it will provide jobs and growth for Delta County, but because it will help stimulate the economy and grow local businesses throughout the region,” said Keira Bresnahan, executive director of the Piceance Energy Action Council. “This is not only good for Delta, but for surrounding counties, the state and even the nation. Whenever we can produce our own oil and gas, it is a benefit to the country as a whole.”

Josh Applegate, president of the Delta Chamber of Commerce, agreed. Morever, he said the proposed development comes at a critical time for Delta and Delta County.

“With the recent primary job losses in the mining sector, the county is looking for ways to diversify,” Applegate said. “Ultimately, subcontractors who will support the project will have an increased income stream, and that will benefit retail services in the town and the region.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management drafted an environmental impact statement for the Bull Mountain Unit Master Development Plan. The public comment period for the EIS remains open until April 16.

Supporters of the Bull Mountain development point to not only the potential economic benefits associated with the development, but also the property right issues at stake because the drilling will occur nearly entirely on private property. Supports have argued it’s inappropriate for a federal agency to impose restrictions on private property.

“This project is not only about jobs and growth, but about the federal mineral lease revenues, the severance tax revenues, the mineral impact grants, sales and use tax, property taxes, ad valorum tax, all of these revenue streams,” said David Ludlum, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “This revenue is used by local governments to build parks, sidewalks, roads, sewage and water treatment facilities, fund schools, provide police and fire protection and so many other local necessities.”

Ludlum also addressed the property rights issues. “No issue is more high profile than property rights in Delta County,” he said. “This puts additional urgency on the BLM to approve this project quickly so as not to encumber private landowners.”