Thursday, September 8, 2011
Hayden Ed Koucherik doesn’t know if the soil that surrounds his dog boarding kennel on Rose Street in Craig will become a gateway to a valuable pool of sweet crude oil that could be resting in the Niobrara shale formation 8,000 to 9,000 feet below his business. With talk about oil and gas exploration in Routt and Moffat counties on the rise, he soon may find out.
But first, Koucherik said he’ll continue to talk with his wife about what kind of impact an oil well might have on their business.
“We’ll have a conversation about it, and it may not all be a happy conversation,” he said, adding that he and his wife have a list of concerns about how a well on their property might affect them. “A lot of couples in our area are likely having discussions, and some disagreements, about this right now.”
In the meantime, Koucherik wants to be sure he’s prepared to negotiate if the oil companies decide to explore the land that he believes may be suitable for drilling. That’s why on Wednesday night he joined 150 others in Hayden for a sold-out Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Symposium hosted by the Community Agriculture Alliance and Yampa Valley Data Partners. The symposium explored the potential impact of a local oil and gas boom from the perspectives of elected officials, landowners, energy companies and scientists.
“I want to gain as much knowledge as I can so I can protect my interests if an oil boom really is coming,” Koucherik said. “I have to be informed.”
The gathering kicked off with a prediction from state Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, that the issue has the potential to impact many residents in Northwest Colorado.
“Oil and gas development has become a reality in Routt County,” White told the crowd. “We’re all going to see changes in our communities in Routt and Moffat counties, and it’s important now that we all work together.”
White said that the boom likely will add jobs to the community but that residents and elected officials also must recognize the potential strains an increase in oil exploration could put on housing, schools, wildlife, roads and other aspects of a community.
Anticipating a boom
While no representative at the symposium predicted how many drilling permits Routt and Moffat counties could expect to see during the next 12 months, all acknowledged that interest in exploration through wildcat drilling was increasing.
That was apparent after Routt County planner Chris Brookshire, the county’s designee for oil and gas permitting requests and questions, reported last week that she has seen an increased number of inquiries from energy companies during the past few months. The county Assessor’s Office also is seeing more oil landmen searching property records for land that extends over the Niobrara shale layer that Koucherik thinks can be accessed from his lot.
Matt Holman, a senior staff geologist with Shell Oil’s exploration and production division, told the crowd that nobody knows whether much of the Niobrara shale beneath Routt and Moffat counties is a viable development target for oil. He said his company is in an exploratory phase.
“If the Niobrara turns out to be a bust, then the focus will move on to another formation,” he said.
In the meantime, he said he looked forward to working with the community and hearing their concerns as oil possibilities are explored.
Also in the audience sat a quorum of Hayden Town Council members who listened intently to the explanations of the drilling process and the economic impact that can accompany it. Halfway through the symposium, many elected officials said they still had questions.
“As a Town Council, we’re all trying to understand how this is going to affect us,” Hayden’s Festus Hagins said. “I’m nowhere near being an oil and gas man. What are the impacts going to be for us as a community?”
Hagins said he recently has started to see an increase in oil drilling activity on private property that surrounds his western Routt County town. Additionally, the Routt County Board of Commissioners next week will vote on a permit application for Shell Oil to drill a well near Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
He said the effects of a boom likely will depend on how productive the Niobrara shale turns out to be, and how receptive land owners are to the oil companies.
“Some are really excited about this, and some are more concerned about what could happen because of it,” Hagins said.
— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com