Colorado counties take lead in promoting natural gas projects

A remote natural gas project near Parachute, Colorado. Photo courtesy Wikimedia commons

The State of Colorado will no longer promote the production of natural gas in eastern Utah and western Colorado, leaving such efforts up to individual counties to take leadership roles in such projects.

However, the number of partners in an initiative to promote natural gas development is growing, according to a story in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, as Ute Indian tribes have become involved and the state of Wyoming reportedly is poised to do so. But officially, the Colorado Energy Office will no longer actively support natural gas development.

On April 11, representatives of four Colorado counties met in Rifle to sign an agreement to join the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development and the Ouray and Uintah Utes in a newly formed advocacy group called the Western States and Tribal Nations. With the inclusion of the Ute tribes, it expands on the initial effort undertaken by Colorado and Utah.

In 2017, the Colorado Energy Office and Utah officials signed an agreement to oversee what was then called the Western States Rural Natural Gas Initiative, and jointly work on finding markets and ways to deliver gas to them. The Sentinel reported that agencies from the states then joined counties, energy producers and Colorado Mesa University to partner on production of a $117,000 report aimed at helping in their efforts.

That report, shortly due out in finalized form, will build on the CMU/Grand Junction Economic Partnership report called “From the Piceance Basin to the Pacific Rim,” which was issued in 2014 and later updated. It focused on opportunities for exporting gas from western Colorado’s Piceance Basin to Asian markets, including via the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal in Oregon.

But after former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper left office in January due to term limits, and fellow Democrat Jared Polis replaced him, the Colorado Energy Office ended its involvement in the project.

Kathleen Staks, who was the office’s executive director under Hickenlooper and was involved in the initiative, left that position in January and went to work for Guzman Energy, a Denver-based local power provider.

The Sentinel quoted Eric Carlson, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association: ”It would have been nice for (Polis) to pick up and carry the former governor’s initiative, but we understand those things sometimes don’t happen.” Tom Jankovsky, from Colorado’s Garfield County, said he thinks the Polis administration’s change of course is “to be expected with the direction they’re going with fossil fuels.” He said the Colorado Legislature’s passage of a comprehensive new oil and gas bill could seriously hamper drilling levels in western Colorado. Polis is expected to sign it.

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese said that with the end of the Colorado Energy Office’s involvement, the counties of Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Moffat decided they would take a lead role in the effort. Pugliese said that made sense because the counties already have been engaged with the federal government and with Japanese officials in terms of developing relationships and promoting projects such as Jordan Cove. That project would require Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval and overseas customers to go forward. “I think we’re excited to be leading this effort, and we’ll continue to push it forward,” she said.

Meanwhile, the state of Wyoming also has decided to get involved, which makes sense given that oil and gas basins overlap the three states, Pugliese said.

Carlson hopes county-level involvement will grow.

“This is an opportunity for other counties currently generating natural gas to join in this effort,” he said.