Natural gas drilling: Southwest Colorado braces for new boom

Residents of Garfield, Rio Blanco and Weld counties already know the drill, so to speak -- the march of natural gas rigs across their landscape. Activists are gearing up to fight a surge in well permits in South Park. And now the Four Corners area is bracing for a possible gas boom that could bring thousands of new wells to public lands stretching across four counties and large swaths of the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado

As reported in today's Durango Herald, federal land managers in the area are revising a management plan in light of increasing interest from the energy industry in the Gothic Shale Gas Play Area, a 600,000-acre formation found in Dolores, Montezuma, San Miguel and La Plata counties.

The potential for drilling the area has increased with new technology, including methods of injecting water and chemicals into tight shale formations to extract oil and gas trapped there -- better known as "fracking," an approach that's generated plenty of alarm about possible water contamination and soothing speeches about safety from Governor John Hickenlooper and industry advocates.

U.S. Forest Service officials are now estimating that as many as 3,000 new wells could be headed for the Paradox Basin in the next fifteen years. That's prompted the government to supplement its land management plan for the San Juan National Forest, which will be released later this week for a 45-day period of public comment. The Gothic Shale formation is "a high potential play that should be evaluated," the officials concluded.

Get additional details about the process here.

More from our News archive: "Ken Salazar to drill-baby-drill crowd: Stop whining and get cracking."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast