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Study warns Rifle not to put all eggs in energy basket

Heidi RiceRifle CorrespondentVail, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado Recently revealed results of a community case study on Rifle will hopefully alert state and federal agencies about what is going on in Rifle and the impacts of the natural gas industry, city officials said.The city commissioned the $35,000 study in September 2007 and hired BBC Research & Consulting out of Denver, who also conducted a regional socioeconomic study for Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.In our study, we wanted to highlight what was happening in Rifle a little better, City Manager John Hier told city council members at a July 2 workshop presentation of the results. This study is not aimed at you, its a study about you and aimed at other audiences, like the federal and state governments. Its a cohesive study about whats going on in Rifle.Much of the study addresses the impacts and future projected impacts of the natural gas industry in the Rifle area.Obviously, the gas industry is what everyone is talking about, said Ford Frick, managing director of BBC. Rifle has been ground zero for the past seven years.But the study recommends that Rifle be cautious about being overly dependent on the gas industry, which could likely crowd out other industries in the area, affecting agriculture, land values, tourism, recreational activities and an available workforce.BBC recommended the city maintain a diversified economy and not rely heavily on the energy industry, or potentially face a repeat of the oil shale bust of May 1982, when Exxon unexpectedly shut down its operations, leaving thousands of people unemployed.Its hard to talk to people about the (energy) industry without reminding them of the past experience, Frick said. It took nearly 10 years to recover from the oil shale bust. Its always a lingering remembrance.The boom of gas development in recent years and a projected resurgence of oil shale development within the next 10-15 years will mean rapid growth to a city that already rivals, if not exceeds, Glenwood Springs in population.And while gas development has brought revenue in the form of sales tax and increased property values, it has also increased the demand for city services, caused greater traffic congestion, reduced the number of available hotel rooms for tourists and created competition for local workers, according to the study.We expect another seven to eight years of growth in drilling activity in this area, Frick said.Although most of that activity is expected to occur north of Rifle in Rio Blanco County, the study shows the city will still feel the effects, with many of the workers in Rio Blanco County living, shopping and utilizing services in Rifle.Rifle, to me, is in the middle of all this, Frick said. Rifle is critically positioned to capture a large share of the growth.The study projects that Rifle will have a population of about 30,000 by 2035.The development of oil shale remains the wildcard in northwest Colorados future, according to the study.For right now, the city hopes the results of both the community case study and the four-region study done for Associated Governments will help the city obtain grants and make other government officials aware of Rifles situation.We will take these results to (the Colorado Department of Local Affairs), the state senate and our congressmen so they understand what were going through, said Mike Braaten, Rifles government affairs and energy coordinator.National and international media have already taken notice of what is happening in Rifle.Ive recently been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, a French magazine and CBS News with Katie Couric, Mayor Keith Lambert reported. Its quite serious.


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