Lawmakers get look at energy industry’s operations, impacts
RIFLE – By Ed Green’s reckoning, the spending needs of Garfield County government could grow by $100 million over the next five years.The county manager also thinks the county can expect another $100 million in new revenue over that period to pay for perhaps 150 additional employees, nine more facilities and at least $26 million in added road projects, among other new expenses.But then there are the unknowns, such as just how much the natural gas industry will need to use county roads originally built to get agricultural products to town. Such use will drive up the county’s road maintenance budget.”Farm-to-market roads were never meant to handle that kind of traffic,” Green said Monday.Green’s message was just one of many that a group of state lawmakers heard Monday during a tour of the local gas fields and visits with agencies affected by the gas industry. The 11-member committee is studying how best to distribute energy industry tax revenues among state and local governmental entities and whether the industry should be taxed more.Committee members traveled by bus Monday after getting an aerial overview Sunday of heavily drilled areas and the Roan Plateau, which is owned by the federal government and slated for drilling.State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, set up the committee’s local tour, which continues today. She said she thought it was important for lawmakers to get an overall perspective by plane as part of their visit.”To see the magnitude of the region and the development has tremendous value,” she said.On Monday morning, lawmakers looked at an EnCana water treatment facility and a Williams Production well pad where directional drilling allows numerous holes to be drilled from one location. Schwartz said she tried to set up a fair, balanced tour, which included a look at energy companies implementing “best-management practices” to reduce drilling’s impacts.”Where we’ll come out in terms of policy remains to be seen,” she said.Committee members also were scheduled to hear Monday from the Colorado River District about water quality impacts associated with current and possible energy development, from the Colorado Division of Wildlife about habitat issues, and from other agencies about transportation needs created by energy development.Today, the committee will meet from 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Re-2 School District administration office at 839 Whiteriver Ave. In the morning, representatives from other counties with heavy energy development will speak, followed by officials who will talk about impacts on education, law enforcement, housing, social services and the environment. The Rifle visit will conclude with a public comment period from 2:45-4:15 p.m.The committee includes a mix of lawmakers from the region and other parts of Colorado. State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, whose district includes western Garfield County, said he was glad lawmakers from other parts of the state got a firsthand look at the industry and its impacts. He said he thinks lawmakers from elsewhere hear only of its negative impacts without realizing its benefits.At the same time, he fears that lawmakers from outside the region may get “grandiose ideas” for other uses of severance tax and federal mineral lease revenues. Some of those revenues go to mitigate impacts of energy development, and White said it’s important that that continue.”Any reallocation of existing dollars is going to hit somebody who’s already getting it,” he said.Greg Schnacke, executive vice president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association industry trade group, followed the committee bus on its tour Monday and said he was glad lawmakers got to see the technology and investment required to get gas out of the ground.He said there’s no need to be taxing the industry more, but it makes sense to look at improving upon the way revenues it generates are distributed.”I think the time to do this is right now. If there’s a rising tide of revenues, everybody could benefit,” he said.He recommends considering well permits and gas production as additional factors in determining how much revenue regions with energy development should receive. That calculation is based now on the location of industry employees.Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said he’s glad lawmakers won’t be making decisions based only on conversations back at the state Capitol about energy development.”They need to see the impacts. They also need to mix with the local folks and educate themselves,” he said.