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11/11/2004

Colorado sets drilling mark

The Associated Press

DENVER — The latest energy boom has set a new record in Colorado.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued drilling permit No. 2,379 for the year Tuesday, breaking the record set in 1980 during the state’s last boom.

The permit was granted to Laramie Energy for a natural gas well in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, one of the Bush administration’s top areas for domestic energy development.

New records are also likely this year in the amount and value of produced oil and gas, said Brian Macke, the commission director.

The value of Colorado energy production this year is expected to hit $6.6 billion, well above last year’s $5 billion.

Macke said Colorado and the rest of the Rockies will continue to have strong drilling activity because production in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas has begun to decline. Demand for natural gas has also increased, largely because most new power plants in the United States are fueled by gas.

“We believe the dynamics are in place to have sustained high natural gas prices for quite some time,” Macke said.

While energy companies are posting record profits, conflicts are cropping up with landowners angry over drilling rigs being set up on their property.

The problem is the so-called split estate, in which companies have the right to tap below-ground resources even if someone else owns the land.

“They’re trying to railroad us and drill their way through us with no checks and balances,” said Joni Steiner, who operates an environmental education center near Trinidad, where thousands of coal-bed methane wells have been drilled in recent years.

“As a landowner, it completely crushes you that this happens and you have no right to stop it,” Steiner said. “We don’t wish to have that a part of our life.”

The Bureau of Land Management has approved a plan by EnCana Oil & Gas to drill up to 100 natural gas wells south of Rifle over the next two to three years.