DENVER — Staying in front on an oil and gas boom isn’t easy, even for a county with a long, successful partnership with that industry.
That’s what Weld County officials were saying Wednesday morning during the final session of the third annual Niobrara Infrastructure Development Summit held at the Magnolia Hotel.
“One of the biggest challenges for us has been developing infrastructure in the Wattenberg field,” said Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, referring to the large natural gas field in southern Weld County. “Now, we need to get ahead of the Niobrara play (in central and northern Weld County) while we’re still playing catch-up in the Wattenberg field.”
Kirkmeyer said the first step taken to get ahead of the action was to form the Energy Industry Working Group three years ago. That group is a collaboration of various county and city officials along with oil and gas company representatives and field workers.
“We talk about roads, emergency management plans, water disposal … and where a lot of things are going to be,” Kirkmeyer said.
Kirkmeyer said emergency management plans are important to have. If a large snowstorm happens, it’s important to know which roads will be plowed.
Since most of rural Weld County consists of dirt or gravel farm roads, it is also important to plan for road infrastructure, Kirkmeyer added.
“We asked the (oil and gas) industry to partner with us on this, and they did,” Kirkmeyer said. “We have maps of all the wells. And, we know the haul routes so we can develop better roads.”
Fort Lupton Mayor Tommy Holton said the oil and gas industry’s truck traffic has the biggest impact on his community.
“We have 100 wells within the city limits,” the mayor said.
That means it’s critical that the city has a hand in setting up haul routes and helping to determine when buffering is needed.
Another infrastructure issue, Kirkmeyer and Holton agreed, was transporting water to sites where it will be used in fracking. Each fracking job requires up to 3 million gallons.
“We’re now getting to the point in the northeast part (of the county) where we’re putting in piping, which is good for us because it gets truck traffic off roads,” Kirkmeyer said. “But, the challenge is where to put that water line.
“It’s not like a water line at home that is underground. These are on top of the ground and in some instances in our right-of-way. The good news is that they can be laid down quickly and picked up quickly when they are done.”
Other infrastructure-related challenges that Kirkmeyer and Holton identified include: gaining access for oil and gas equipment to use state highways; a pipeline for the transportation of oil and gas; and constantly changing state regulations for issues such as setbacks, air emissions and water quality.
“We don’t like the new rules (recently put in place by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission),” Kirkmeyer said. “We don’t think they were necessary. We think the commission overstepped its authority.”
Holton, who also serves on the COGCC, agreed with Kirkmeyer about the new regulations.
“I was the only ‘no’ vote on the commission,” Holton said. “We have worked with oil and gas people for a long time in our community. We have wells near our schools, our golf courses … they are part of our landscape.
“I would have preferred to wait on the Colorado State University study,” said Holton, referring to a study on water quality and other issues that will be done later this year.
Both agreed that the oil and gas industry does a lot of good things but fails to take credit for it and fails in its efforts to educate the public about what it does.
“One of the challenges for the industry is it needs to overcome … horrible PR,” Kirkmeyer said.
The lack of education and public outreach is what is causing many people to turn against the industry despite the jobs it creates, the donations it makes, and the valuable energy it makes available at affordable prices, they said.
Jeff Shaffer, the senior crude oil marketer for Noble Energy, said his company is aware of the public relations gap and is attempting to be more proactive.
“Noble is working hard in trying to reverse that trend (of being reactive),” Shaffer said. “There is a push now to educate more people about our industry. Keeping a low profile — that doesn’t work anymore. I’m really proud of the way we’re doing things.”