Williams still has big plans for Piceance

Ralph Hill

PARACHUTE — Colorado’s Piceance Basin remains the No. 1 investment for Williams Exploration and Production, which could more than double its drilling program next year, the company president said.

“Williams is fully committed to the Piceance Basin,” Ralph Hill said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Sentinel.

Nine Williams rigs now are operating in the basin, and Williams intends to boost that number to 18 or 20 in 2011, depending on the price of gas, Hill said at the company offices in Parachute.

For 2010, though, Williams’ investment in the Piceance looks to be about $600 million, or similar to the money it spent in exploration and production in 2009, he said.

Of that, about $370 million is being spent on the 18 western Colorado suppliers that are among the company’s top 25 suppliers, Hill said. Williams’ plans call for “pretty robust activity considering the price environment,” he said.

The Piceance Basin is nearly mature in terms of the ability of energy companies to transport gas from northwest Colorado to markets east and west, Hill said. The development of pipelines has put the basin on near-equal footing with other gas fields, he said.

Williams still has some 3,500 permits to drill in the valley area of the Piceance and 5,000 to 6,000 on the highlands area, he said.

Colorado’s new drilling rules, he said, “have cost time and money,” and some issues regarding the certainty of obtaining a permit after meeting regulatory requirements “have popped up,” he said.

“We do feel fully regulated,” he said.

At the same time, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has worked diligently to reduce the time it takes to obtain permits and to work with drillers.

The time to obtain permits went from 30 to 50 days before the new rules to a high-water mark of 70 to 90 days, he said.

It now takes 50 to 70 days to obtain a drilling permit, he said.

Williams took over the Bill Barrett Corp. in 2001, and that company had been drilling in northwest Colorado since 1983.

Williams’ continuing commitment to the Piceance Basin, Hill said, is evidenced in the company’s contribution of $250,000 to the heliport atop St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction and $150,000 of donations to Mesa State College.

The latter includes four scholarships of $5,000 each to students in the energy-management program, which, Hill said, “could be of benefit to us some day.”


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