Delta County drilling project gets big push
As many as 200 jobs could be added to area that lost 500 coal-mining workers
DELTA — Approval of a drilling project could help Delta County recover from the loss of as many as 1,000 jobs in the past two years, said Delta Area Chamber of Commerce officials.
The chamber and other organizations on Monday urged the Bureau of Land Management to approve development of as many as 150 natural-gas wells about 30 miles northeast of Paonia.
The Uncompahgre Field Office of the BLM is studying the proposal by SG Interests Ltd., and the final day to comment is Thursday.
Delta County lost 500 direct coal-mining jobs over the past two years, and chamber President Josh Applegate said the slowdown has translated into the loss of 500 more jobs in related businesses.
The county also is losing residents, said County Administrator Robbie LeValley.
A population study commissioned by the county shows significant outmigration, with more than 500 residents leaving in 2011 and 100 more in 2013, LeValley said.
The county population was 30,952 in 2010 and the census estimated it at 29,870 in 2014, or down 3.5 percent.
“Delta County has been looking at alternate ways of encouraging different economic sectors” to boost jobs, Applegate said, one of them being natural gas development.
The proposed Bull Mountain project could make up for some of those losses with as many as 200 jobs, Applegate said.
Such projects “will do nothing but boost this county,” said Joel Turner, owner of T&T Bit Services, 21646 Solar Court, in Delta.
Turner services, repairs and refurbishes drill bits for customers across the United States and he said he employs five people in town.
Falling petroleum prices, however, have taken their toll and many of his customers have slowed their drilling programs.
If the Bull Mountain project proceeds, there’s an opportunity for more business that could make it possible “for me to hire another person, or three,” Turner said.
While the Bull Mountain project garnered supporters, Citizens for a Healthy Community is urging caution, said Jim Ramey, executive director of the Hotchkiss-based organization.
The agency should require the gathering of baseline environmental information, adequate bonding and mitigation for big-game animals, Ramey said.
“BLM quantified the alleged economic benefits that this project would provide, but never gave equal consideration to the costs of such development” on climate change, Ramey noted in an email.
The Bull Mountain project includes about 19,645 acres of federal and privately held minerals about 30 miles northeast of Paonia. Colorado Highway 133 runs down the middle of it.
SG Interests plans to drill up to 146 natural gas wells and four water-disposal wells, as well as develop pads, access roads, gas and water pipelines, screw compressors and overhead electric lines.
Most of the affected lands, 98 percent, are privately owned, and the project has been under study for 10 years, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
“We think its time has come,” Ludlam said.
Other organizations urging approval of the project include the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Club 20.