Forest target of increased gas drilling |

Forest target of increased gas drilling

Donna Gray

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – While it is a peripheral player in the oil and gas boom in western Colorado, the White River National Forest has seen activity increase exponentially over the last three years.In 2002, one exploratory project calling for three wells was proposed on the forest near Haystack Mountain south of Silt. By June of 2003, the forest, which stretches from Summit County to Vail to Glenwood Springs and Aspen, had received proposals for five projects with a total of 16 wells along four different creeks. The following year, Laramie Energy came into the picture with its Hells Gulch project and a request for 12 wells.Also in 2004, EnCana, the largest natural gas producer in neighboring Garfield County, drilled an exploratory well southwest of Glenwood Springs in the so-called Wolf Creek Field, which could be a target for future exploration and production. “As companies become more comfortable with the results of their exploration programs, and as exploration expands to areas that previously would not have been economically viable, oil and gas companies eventually approach us with larger development proposals,” Maribeth Gustafson, White River National Forest supervisor, said in an editorial in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent Wednesday.Producing energy in the national forest is more challenging than in the center of the gas-rich Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado. Higher altitudes mean a shorter working season. The forest imposes a drilling ban from Dec. 1 to April 14 to protect elk and deer. Companies can maintain existing wells, but drilling for new wells, including construction of well pads, is prohibited.Some areas are also closed until the end of June to protect elk having calves.Also challenging for natural gas production companies is the geology in the upper reaches of the basin, which is in the national forest. The Colorado River Valley bottom, where the richest and most heavily-exploited gas fields are located, have natural “sags,” where thicker sandstone deposits have trapped more gas. Companies operating in those areas are “picking the low fruit on the tree,” Sandoval said. “As you gain elevation and go south in the Piceance Basin the gas-rich deposits thin out.”The federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns large tracts of land in Colorado, has also seen an exponential increase in requests for drilling permits over the last couple years. In 2004, it issued 186 permits. That number grew to 285 last year, compared to “50 to 100 permits in 2003,” said Steve Bennett, the assistant field office manager.This year the bureau projects it will issue 400 permits that will increase to between 600 to 700 over the next two years, he said. The bureau hopes to open a special office for oil and gas drilling in Glenwood Springs. The office will also be staffed by the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.Vail, Colorado

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