Northwest Colorado is teeming with activity from the oil and gas industry, but the boom has been adversely affecting roads, public services and housing availability. Some local government entities have tried to quantify the effects of the boom, but have lacked the big-picture look. About a year ago, state and local officials decided it was time to end the guesswork and commissioned a socioeconomic study for the northwest region. There must have been a lot of numbers to crunch because the report, to be released on Friday, is more than an inch thick.With oil shale development looming in the near future and with a possible workforce of up to 50,000 people, basically adding a Grand Junction-sized population from Rifle to Meeker, state and local governments decided it was time to scrutinize the impacts and costs of the current energy development boom from natural gas drilling.
“In this study, we took a very objective look of what it is going to take to sustain the amount of growth projected by 2025 in northwest Colorado,” said Aron Diaz, executive director or the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, a regional association representing Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt counties, as well as cities located within them.
AGNC helped direct the project, funded by the Department of Local Affairs; state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Public health and Environment and the state demographer’s office also were involved with the endeavor. BBC Research and Consulting compiled the information and wrote the report.
“The study includes population projections and the infrastructure needed to sustain our fast-growing economy such as roads, housing, supporting workforce and government services,” Diaz said. “We didn’t try to analyze anything; we concentrated on statistics.”
In a separate section, some government entities commented on the political realities of how to finance the boom.
“Every one had an antidotal story about how the oil and gas boom was affecting their community, but they needed quantification of what is actually happening,” noted Mike Braaten, the government affairs and energy coordinator for the City of Rifle. “The study validates those impacts, which will help when we apply for DOLA energy impact grants.”
For instance, Braaten noted that the two-lane State Highway 13, which was once a rural two-lane roadway between Meeker and Rifle, will become a prime corridor route for energy development, according to the study.
The unveiling of the socioeconomic study will be in the old Supreme Court Chambers at the State Capitol Building in Denver 11:30 a.m. Friday. “We wanted to present the report to the largest group possible and to the decision makers who determine how much severance tax revenues are returned to communities impacted by the energy boom – legislators, including the severance tax interim committee members, congress and U.S. Senate representatives and state officials,” explained Diaz.
Next the show will go on the road in areas affected most by oil and gas drilling – starting in Craig on May 16 for the energy conference, then on to Grand Junction, Meeker and Rifle.
“Importantly, this study is adaptable as factors change, and we can continue to alter the data as this area grows,” Diaz said. “This is one study that won’t collect dust.”
Top photo: Parking in downtown Rifle is almost non-existent. Plus, parking slots were designed for personal vehicles, not large pickup trucks owned by industry workers, ranchers or people too scared to drive in compact cars anymore. Second photo: Rush hour traffic zooms on Rifle’s main drag past the two-year old Garfield County human services building, which is already bursting at the seams because of the demand for office space for county employees. Photos by Leslie Robinson.