Meis blames drilling slowdown on giving authority to legislators

Western Slope counties that asked Denver to intercede when they had difficulty with some drillers are now suffering because of it, Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis said.

The end result of seeking legislative support, Meis said Wednesday during an energy update sponsored by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce was that Western Slope local officials gave authority to the legislators and bureaucrats in Denver who “don’t know a gas rig from a compressor,”  Meis said.

As a result, “We’re faced with a self-inflicted bust,” Meis told about 30 people at the update.

The Legislature last year approved new drilling rules that have been blamed by many in the industry for the drilling slowdown in the Piceance Basin of northwest Colorado.

Industry representatives also have acknowledged that the drop in the price of natural gas played a significant role in the slowdown that began in late 2008.

When local officials, especially county commissioners, on the Western Slope turned to the state to resolve problems with drilling, such as the Dallas Divide seep and others, they inadvertently turned over their authority to the state capital, Meis said.

Meis, in addition to being a commissioner, is a chemical engineer who has owned environmental-compliance companies working with drilling companies.

The new rules fail to provide the kind of certainty needed by investors in small operations, Meis said.

Investors who can’t be confident that they’ll receive permits if they meet all requirements are unlikely to put millions of dollars into drilling, he said.

The large multinational corporations that now dominate the Piceance Basin can afford to drill elsewhere and have shifted people and equipment to other fields, such as the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, Bakken shale in the Dakotas and elsewhere, Meis said.

Gov. Bill Ritter, who has borne his share of blame for the drop in the energy economy, “got caught up in the emotion” of drilling critics, Meis said.

Ritter has since changed his view of natural gas, calling it a part of his New Energy Economy instead of a transition fuel, Meis said, but that might not immediately reverse the exodus of drilling companies.

Eventually, drilling and other energy companies might have to be attracted back to western Colorado by incentives, he said.


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