Colorado - Piceance Basin Oil and Gas

State: Colorado

Part of the Green River Formation, the Piceance Basin is located in northwest Colorado and stretches across 6,000 square miles. Large deposits of natural gas brought on a rush of energy companies to the area. During the Bush-Cheney years, the BLM leased as much federal land as possible, some of it for only $2 an acre. Drilling companies Encana, Williams and Exxon collectively own mineral rights to more than 2,000,000 acres in Mesa, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. Between them, they have 50,000 drilling locations they have not begun to permit yet, and they are pushing for more.

In 2008, at the peak of the drilling frenzy, more than 2,000 gas wells were drilled in the Piceance Basin. In 2010, Garfield, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties produced 750 billion cubic feet of gas – 3 percent of the U.S. total, with an estimated value that year of $3 billion.

With a projection of 15,000 more wells in the White River Field Office in the next 15 years according to the BLM’s 2012 Resource Management Plan amendment, land managers, sportsmen, recreationists, conservationists and communities are struggling to lay out sensible plans for future energy development. The Piceance provides sage grouse habitat and important winter range for the country’s largest migratory mule deer herd and Colorado’s largest elk herd, which support the state’s recreation and tourism-based economy.

After a drop in development, there are over 10,000 locations that are eligible for final reclamation and the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission plans on inspecting these. The commission needs to update and strengthen its rules for reclamation, and to clarify regulations for things like properly protecting topsoil, weed control, and when reclamation work should begin.