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Facts, analysis goals of oil and gas forum in Steamboat

People attend an oil and gas forum hosted by the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley on Wednesday night at Steamboat Springs High School.

— The ongoing effort to educate residents about potential impacts from oil and gas exploration continued Wednesday night in Steamboat Springs.

The forum occurred the same day the Routt County Board of Commissioners voted, 2-1, early Wednesday to grant a permit for Quicksilver Resources to drill a new well on Wolf Mountain.

"Having these things is good," said Steve Williams, a local retired petroleum geologist who was one of about 100 people who attended the oil and gas forum hosted by the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley at Steamboat Springs High School. "It needs the dialogue. I think everyone has learned a lot in the past six months."

The speakers included Judy Jordan, the former oil and gas liaison for Garfield County, and Barbara Green, a Colorado attorney who specializes in working with governments that are navigating their ways through oil and gas issues. Jim Kerr, a North Routt County resident with 34 years of experience in the business, also provided an overview of drilling practices such as fracking.

"We wanted to avoid emotion and deliver an analytical, factually based presentation," said Steve Aigner, a board member of the Community Alliance, a group that aims to preserve community character and the natural environment.

Jordan gave an overview of the social and economic impacts from the oil and gas boom in Garfield County.

At the peak in 2008, Jordan said 3,000 wells were being drilled in the county. She said the oil and gas industry took a toll on county roads, raised income levels, increased the cost of housing and shifted career choices. Jordan said this shift left a lot of empty patrol cars at the Garfield County Sheriff's Office, where potential deputies were taking the higher paying jobs in energy exploration.

"It's really hard to run a society when you can't fill these kinds of jobs," Jordan said.

Oil and gas also brought a lot of money to the county, which was the result of property taxes collected on infrastructure that the energy companies built. About half of the county's revenues — about $50 million a year — came from oil and gas.

"We're still sitting on about a $120 million surplus right now," Jordan said.

Green, a former Steamboat Springs assistant city manager from the early 1980s, is a partner in the Front Range law firm of Sullivan Green Seavy and is a member of the governor's task force on oil and gas development. She addressed the controls that local governments can place on oil and gas exploration.

"The authority is the authority you have over any other industry," she said.

Green said the law states that local governments can regulate impacts up to the point where they would "materially impede or destroy a state's interest." The state's interest, for example, could include the state's desire to extract the oil and gas.

Kerr — the local geologist whose career has included engineering, petroleum geology and environmental geology — gave a simplified overview about how oil and gas wells are drilled and the techniques used in fracking.

"Hydraulic fracturing has not been proven to pollute ground water," Kerr said several times.

The process that has been practiced for more than 60 years occurs well below the aquifers, he said, and cases of groundwater contamination are the result of the mishandling of fluids on the surface or the result of bad cement work or damaged casings that are used to line the well.

Kerr also told the crowd that hydraulic fracturing can cause earthquakes but that they are micro or minor and rate at a two or lower on the magnitude scale.

"They don't cause damage," he said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com