Jeremy Casterson, Bureau of Land Management planning and environmental coordinator for the Little Snake Field Office, holds up a map of the Vermillion Basin with colored sections indicating different natural gas potentials.  The northern part of the basin is a high-potential area, but there has not been a study to determine the amount of gas there.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Jeremy Casterson, Bureau of Land Management planning and environmental coordinator for the Little Snake Field Office, holds up a map of the Vermillion Basin with colored sections indicating different natural gas potentials. The northern part of the basin is a high-potential area, but there has not been a study to determine the amount of gas there.

Governor's statistic disputed

Commissioners: Ritter's facts on Vermillion Basin not from a scientific study

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— Politically, the governor and the Moffat County Commission sometimes view things differently.

Whatever expectation existed for Gov. Bill Ritter and the commissioners to agree was divided by hard facts during the governor's Sept. 28 visit to Craig.

During their Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County commissioners said Ritter used inaccurate statistics in his case for delaying energy exploration at Vermillion Basin.

Ritter's office could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Vermillion Basin has about 2 percent of the natural gas in Moffat County, Ritter said to the commissioners. Because of that low percentage, he did not want to drill in an area previously untouched.

Ritter cited the Bureau of Land Management as his source for the 2 percent statistic, while meeting with area business leaders earlier in the day.

Commissioner Saed Tayyara told Ritter there was no scientific evidence that Vermillion Basin contained "only 2 percent" of the area's natural gas.

The governor's administration is trying to delay the process, commissioner Tom Mathers said at Tuesday's meeting.

"They're trying to slow this decision down until the administration changes in the presidency," Mathers said. "Then, it'll be a whole different story with the BLM."

BLM officials said they do not want to be involved in a fight about the size of energy deposits in Vermillion Basin, though the BLM's preferred plan recommends exploration in the area.

"We haven't done any calculations on how much natural gas is in Vermillion," said Jerry Strahan, associate field manager for lands, energy and minerals in the Little Snake Field Office.

There have been no studies done by the BLM to determine the amount of natural resources anywhere in the Little Snake planning area, said Jeremy Casterson, BLM Little Snake planning and environmental coordinator. Little Snake includes most of Moffat and Routt counties and some of Rio Blanco County.

In 2005, U.S. Geological Survey conducted an Energy Policy Conservation Act study, which is the only estimate study Casterson recalled. From that study, the BLM found there was approximately 9.9 trillion cubic feet of gas in all of Little Snake, but did not conclude how much gas certain areas contained.

U.S. Geological Survey divided the area into zones ranging from low to high potential. Much of Vermillion Basin is medium to low potential, but the northern tip has the possibility for rich deposits, the study concluded.

Ritter cited a math calculation to get the 2 percent figure, not a geological study, Casterson said. The section of Vermillion Basin that has a high potential for natural gas is 2 percent of the total high potential area in Little Snake.

The Colorado Department of Wildlife released that calculation, said Deb Frazier, Department of Natural Resources communication director.

To say Vermillion Basin holds 2 percent of the total amount of natural gas in Little Snake is incorrect, because that study has not been done, Casterson said.

"The county has thrown out some numbers and the state has thrown out some numbers, but it's all guessing at this point," he said.

Two percent of the area doesn't necessarily mean 2 percent of the gas amount, Casterson added.

"It may not be 2 percent," he said. "Not all high-potential is created equal."

And 2 percent still can mean huge amounts of natural gas and revenue, said Jeff Comstock, Moffat County natural resources director.

According to data provided by Comstock, 2 percent of 9.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could heat 2.31 million homes for a year.

The potential benefit from gas in Vermillion Basin is worth the cost of exploration, especially considering the environmental planning that went into the drilling plan, commissioner Tom Gray said after Tuesday's commissioner meeting.

The plan Gray referred to, which is the preferred plan from the BLM, limits disturbance in Vermillion Basin to 1 percent of the total acreage.

"After that 1 percent, the whole basin is off-limits," Gray said. "It's an incentive for (the gas companies) to do as little as possible."

Final say about the drilling plan eventually falls to Sally Wisely, BLM Colorado state director. The BLM will have a final draft of the Environmental Impact Study in spring 2008.

The final draft was delayed from November 2007 following a request from the Environmental Protection Agency for a supplemental air quality impact study.

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