2013 drilling activity lowest since 2002 in Garfield County

Drilling activity in Garfield County last year was down about 20 percent from the year before, and at its lowest level since 2002.

Drilling began on 389 wells in the county in 2013, down from 497 in 2012, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data. The county’s count hasn’t been that low since the 245 well starts recorded in 2002.

Drilling in the county has been declining because of the low price of natural gas. Companies instead have been focusing on other areas with more oil and other liquid hydrocarbons, both out of state and in places such as northeastern Colorado.

Weld County led the state in well starts last year, with 1,222. However, that was down from 1,469 the prior year, and well starts for the state as a whole fell from 2,301 to 1,839, the least since 2003. State well starts peaked at 4,443 in 2008.

Garfield continues to rank second among counties for drilling activity and well permits. It had led the state for several years by both measures, with its well starts reaching 1,688 in 2008 before seeing a general decline since then.

Drilling began on 36 wells in Rio Blanco County last year, down from 52 the previous year and 203 at the 2008 peak. Mesa had six last year, compared to four the prior year and 222 in the 2008 peak.

Moffat had 22 well starts, compared to 26 the prior year. There was one well start last year in Gunnison County and none were drilled in Delta County.

In Garfield County, 870 drilling permits were approved last year, the lowest level since 2004. In 2012, 1,046 were approved; the 2008 peak was 2,888.

Statewide, permits rose to 4,025 from 3,773 in 2012. That was thanks largely to Weld County, where permit approvals rose from 1,826 to 2,468, suggesting potential for an increase in future drilling levels there.

Permit numbers rose in Rio Blanco County from 117 to 167, while Mesa’s count fell from 150 to 105. Moffat’s count was 44, exactly half the 2012 level.

Nine permits were approved in Gunnison County, and one in Delta County.

Drilling activity in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin looks as if it will be even lighter this year after Encana suspended its local drilling program late last year. It and WPX Energy had been doing most of the recent area drilling.

WPX continues to operate seven Piceance rigs, and both the company and observers say its Piceance program remains important because it’s such a major part of the company’s portfolio and it needs to keep up local production for revenue reasons.

WPX accounted for 197 of all the wells drilled in the Piceance last year, according to Bentek Energy, an energy analytics firm.

Bentek analyst Erika Coombs said recently that gas production in the basin peaked at 2.2 billion cubic feet a day in April 2012, and is expected to be about 1.68 billion cubic feet a day this month. If current drilling levels hold constant, it could be expected to decline slightly to about 1.59 billion cubic feet a day over the next five years, she said.


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