Western Colorado still teeming with energy and opportunity

Diane SchwenkeWith two large projects on the cusp, plans for an Energy Epicenter and emerging technologies for shale development, the western slope has a bright outlook. 

Grand Junction continues to be a desired location for the energy business,” says Diane Schwenke, President and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce (GJACC), “There are quite a few exciting things going on right now that could really jump start the energy sector and our economy.”

Currently, the Pinon Ridge Mill Tailings project and the plans for more drilling leases on the Roan Plateau would create jobs, opportunities for other businesses and economic activity for the area. “Each of these projects, once they are able to be put into motion, would provide roughly 1000 jobs each for western Colorado,” says Schwenke. And while both plans have jumped over the many hurdles involved in energy related projects, they have a few more leaps before reaching the finish line in becoming reality. And as is the case in most energy development related cases, the challenges are found in a variety of legal battles.

 The Pinon project has been working to get past a variety legal challenges (including the latest one from the city of Telluride) which are also hampering its ability to raise investment dollars. The Roan Plateau drilling has been mired in environmental challenges over the years and drilling will only move forward under stringent federal guidelines which limit the drilling to 350 acres at a time and with only one company operating the rigs. Indeed, many of the challenges have been addressed in both cases and that means good news for the western slope. “The moving forward of these projects will not only create jobs, but it will provide new business opportunities for existing businesses and entrepreneurs alike,” says Schwenke, “Additionally, the projects will create jobs in construction and related fields as the infrastructure investment is indeed significant.”

 The 2011 Mesa County Economic Development Summary has created a focus on the development of an Energy Epicenter for the Grand Junction and western Colorado. This approach has the overall goal of making the Grand Valley a “most desired location for innovative energy business research and development “Silicon Valley” for all energy including resolving issues between resource development and environmental protection.” There were many voices at the table in creating this approach including the GJACC, Colorado Mesa University (CMU), Western Colorado Community College (WCCC), Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the Business Incubator Center, Grand Junction Economic Partnership, Mesa County and the City of Grand Junction among many who have been contributing. The plan is in its formative stages, but its opportunities are already coming to light.

CMU and WCCC are in the early stages of maximizing opportunities already in place, with CMU looking into possibly expanding curriculum at the Redifer Institute and exploring ideas on undergraduate research and WCCC is building on the technical roots from its UTECH past. The Mesa County Workforce Center is in the developmental stages of creating programs that work with employers to determine the skill sets needed for employee training and developing the curriculum needed to fill that need. COGA is providing strong support for the initiative and has members excited about becoming integral in its success.

And recently, the Mesa County Federal Mineral Lease (FML) District Board announced the creation of the 2011 FML District grant program. The FML district has adopted as a foundation for funding priority the 2011 Mesa County Economic Development Summary. The approach was selected because the District Board recognized Mesa County’s opportunity to not only be the first to respond to Governor Hickenlooper’s “Bottom Up Economic Development Plan Request” but also to be the first to invest meaningful resources toward its implementation. “This funding moves the county’s Economic Development Summary forward to the implementation plan much more quickly,” adds Schwenke.

Finally, modest drilling activity has been accompanied by a healthy, consistent increase according to David Ludlam of Western Slope COGA. “The new natural gas horizons being explored right under our feet are making long-0term potential of our basin even more exciting than they were in 2008,” adds Ludlam, “That said, industry regulation, this time via federal policies has taken on the role of being the greatest long-term threat to the industry, and there is concern that the policies in Colorado will put the state at a disadvantage when compared to other states.” But Ludlam goes on to note that there are more positive signs than negative, particularly with the implementation of eastern shale expertise being imported and applied in western Colorado, in techniques such as deeper drilling and horizontal drilling. “The potential for growth is very real, if not inevitable. But its timing is contingent on global recovery and the continued development of new markets for our natural gas products,” added Ludlam.