Garfield County hits drilling milestone

RIFLE — Garfield County has hit another milestone in oil and gas production, with its tally of active wells now topping 11,000, more than one-fifth of the statewide total.

At current drilling rates, though, it could take several years before that number exceeds 12,000. Drilling activity in the county hasn’t been this low in 15 years, and the total number of rigs punching new wells in the region is down to just five — three in Garfield County and two in Mesa County.

Kirby Wynn, Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, noted in a presentation at the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum Thursday in Rifle that the county’s three current rigs compare to rig counts as high as 18 to 20 in the county during the last few years.

The number of wells on which drilling has begun in the county so far this year is falling accordingly.

“Clearly we’re on a pace well off of last year, which was a slow pace of 355 wells (drilled), so there’s certainly a lot less activity right now,” Wynn said.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data puts last year’s well start total in the county at 361, down from about 500 two years earlier. As of Thursday, there were just 130 well starts so far this year in the county. That puts it on pace to possibly fall this year below the 190 drilled in the county in 2000, the last time drilling activity in the county has been that low.

Drilling in the county peaked in 2008, with 1,689 well starts.

Garfield County still remains the second-busiest county in the state for oil and gas activity. Weld County leads the state in well starts this year, at 798. Mesa County is third among counties, with 52 well starts, and Rio Blanco County fifth, with 16.

Currently, Black Hills Exploration & Production is operating two rigs in the region, and WPX Energy, Piceance Energy and Caerus Oil and Gas are operating a single rig apiece. A Piceance Energy representative said Thursday the company plans to drill 50 to 60 wells east of Collbran over the next half year. WPX alone was operating nine rigs locally at the start of the year before cutting back to pursue drilling elsewhere focused on oil rather than natural gas.

Robert Bleil of Ursa Resources said Ursa plans to resume drilling again in a month or so.

WPX continues to employ about 200 people in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, where it operates 4,700 wells, as the state’s largest producer of natural gas. Encana, the second-largest producer behind WPX in the Piceance Basin, has 218 employees working in the basin.

Michael DeBerry, Rocky Mountain area manager for Chevron, said current oil and gas prices are making for challenging times for the industry, but those prices are cyclical.

“They’re currently down but with time will rebound,” he said.

Chevron hasn’t drilled local wells for several years now but continues to employ about 40 people in Grand Junction, supporting the company’s Rocky Mountain operations, and also has staff in Rangely.


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