Gas wells in GarCo fewer for third year

Natural gas drilling in Garfield County is on track to for its third straight year of decline, and fourth drop in the past five years.

Drilling starts on new wells in the county — still Colorado’s second-most active for oil and gas development — are on track to be at their lowest level in about a decade. The same goes for permits to drill wells, which as in the case of new well starts could fall this year below levels in 2004.

The slowdown reflects the continuing low price of natural gas and the focus by many companies on more oil-rich prospects in other areas, including northeast Colorado and out-of-state locations such as North Dakota.

As of Thursday, new well starts in Garfield County totaled 370 so far this year, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. For last year as a whole, the county had 497 well starts. The number has been dropping since 910 were drilled in 2010.

Well starts in the county peaked in 2008 at 1,688. They had steadily risen over prior years, totaling 417 in 2003 and 585 in 2004.

Statewide, well starts to date total 1,675, with 1,096 occurring in Weld County alone. Garfield County had led the state in drilling activity from 2005-08 before Weld County retook the lead.

The two still account for most drilling in the state. Lincoln is the third-busiest county so far this year, with 39 well starts, and Rio Blanco is fourth, at 31. But Rio Blanco had 52 well starts for all of last year and 203 in the county’s peak year of 2008.

Mesa County has six well starts so far for the year, up from four last year and a peak in 2008 of 222. Moffat has 22 starts this year and had 26 for 2012.

As of Nov. 7, the oil and gas commission issued 691 drilling permits for Garfield County, 21 percent of the state total of 3,345. It approved 2,048 in Weld County, or 61 percent of the total.

In Garfield County 1,046 permits were approved for all of last year, and the county peaked at 2,888 permits in 2008. Its permit level this year could fall below the 796 approved in 2004, the last time the number was that low.

Rio Blanco and Mesa are respectively third (149) and fourth (102) in permits so far this year. For all of last year, 117 were approved for Rio Blanco County and 150 for Mesa County.

According to the organization Community Counts, WPX Energy is operating seven drilling rigs in the area, and Encana, five. Black Diamond and Ursa Operating Co. are running a rig apiece.

Most of the rigs are operating in Garfield County.

Encana recently announced plans to lay off 20 percent of employees companywide and focus primarily on oil development.

However, it so far hasn’t indicated any planned cutbacks in local staffing and activities, which are buoyed in part by a joint operating agreement with steel manufacturer Nucor.


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