Despite drilling drops, talk of turnaround at expo

RIFLE — With drilling rigs disappearing in western Colorado over the last half year, some people wondered if EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) still would hold its annual Energy Expo.

Standing in a bustling Garfield County Fairgrounds hall amid some 85 exhibitors Wednesday, Kathy Friesen explained why the answer was yes.

“To continue with this event is important because energy is still important,” said Friesen, who works in community relations for EnCana and has organized the expo since its inception seven years ago.

In some ways, the event may have been more important than ever this year. Many attendees used the opportunity to try to size up where the local natural gas development industry is headed in these uncertain times.

“I’m just trying to get a feel of what the market’s doing,” said Bill Patterson of Rifle, who attended with his wife Barb.

The two own a water trucking business, so they’re personally invested in the energy industry’s future. Patterson said from what he’s hearing, things could pick up again later this year, perhaps as a result of a possible rebound in fuel prices.

Rick Duncan is a business development manager in Grand Junction for NATCO, which builds production equipment for the industry. Stationed at his booth Wednesday, he said that he also was hearing rumors of a pickup in drilling later this year, possibly in part as companies get over their initial fear of the state’s new oil and gas regulations.

“It will come back but I don’t think it will ever be that busy like it was before,” Duncan said.

But Rick Ladtkow, a sales representative for the Directional Plus directional drilling company, thinks things will get even worse before they get better. Energy companies tell him they’ve stockpiled permits approved under the old state rules and aren’t even trying to get permits under the new ones, which they consider cost-prohibitive.

“The new rules are going to make it harder and harder to come back,” Ladtkow said.

The drilling slowdown already has resulted in a 75 percent drop in business for Directional Plus in the Rockies.

At the booth of Williams Production, still the most active energy developer in Garfield County even after cutting back on its rig count, woman

Susan Alvillar said a number of people came by inquiring into possible jobs. She was impressed by their familiarity with Williams’ current projects and the job opportunities that might result.

“They are very well aware of the jobs that may potentially be out there,” Alvillar said.

She said she appreciated EnCana continuing to put on the expo.

Alvillar thinks it’s all the more important for energy companies to interact with the public at a time when people want answers to questions about what the industry’s future might hold.

Friesen estimated Wednesday’s attendance at about 2,000, down from around 2,500 last year.

“I fully expected a lot of people coming here looking for jobs but that’s not necessarily the case across the board,” she said.

Some who attended just wanted to learn more about the industry, and that continues to be the main purpose for holding the expo, Friesen said.

“It’s just an important part of communicating with our stakeholders,” she said.


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