BLM on right track 
with Piceance plan

The Bureau of Land Management’s preferred alternative for natural gas development in much of the Piceance Basin is a welcome blueprint that would allow up to 15,000 gas wells being drilled from about 1,100 drill pads.

That doesn’t mean, however, that if the plan were approved tomorrow, more drill rigs would rush to the Piceance, bringing new jobs and tax revenue to the region.

There are two key things that must occur before that happens, as noted by David Ludlam, executive director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

First, regulatory roadblocks to drilling on federal lands must be eased. The Obama administration proclaimed its “all of the above” energy plan, and has begun making more lands available for oil and gas development, both onshore and off. But making lands available will accomplish little if drilling regulations make production too slow and costly. As Ludlam suggested, the BLM needs to at least ensure its rules are not duplicating or conflicting with the sound regulations already put in place by the state of Colorado.

Equally important, natural gas prices need to rise to attract more drilling. There is little incentive for energy companies to invest heavily in this region right now for what’s primarily been a natural gas play. They can go to places like the Bakken Field and produce oil and gas, which currently is far more profitable than natural gas alone.

That was demonstrated by the unfortunate news, reported in The Daily Sentinel Thursday, that Schlumberger is transferring 70 of its local workers to North Dakota.

Despite all this, the draft amendment to the BLM’s White River Field Office resource management plan is encouraging. The agency’s preferred alternative with respect to gas drilling would allow the second highest number of wells of the four alternatives considered. It would establish a reasonable base for drilling in the gas-rich Piceance Basin that would provide for a healthy regional energy economy.

Contrast that proposal with the draft released late last year by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, which also manages part of the Piceance Basin. The preferred alternative in that draft resource management plan would have “the greatest restrictions on oil and gas leasing and development” of any of the alternatives considered.

It drew substantial opposition from the industry and from county commissioners in Montrose and Garfield counties.

The BLM has received thousands of comments about that plan and is in the process of revising it. A final version of the Colorado River Valley Resource Management Plan is now expected in summer 2013.

Meanwhile, public comment is just beginning on the White River Field Office plan. Public meetings on it will be held late next month in Meeker, Rangely, Silt and Grand Junction.

Citizens should take the time to make their views known on this plan, which will have far-reaching impacts for this region.


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