Western Slope braces for energy bust, but oil and gas regs still hotly debated

Call it a slowdown or call it a bust, but it’s clear the natural-gas boom stoking the fires of development on Colorado’s Western Slope the last several years is all but over.

The Denver Post is reporting oil and gas companies are dramatically scaling back operations in former boom towns from Rifle to Parachute.

And although Garfield County saw a record number of drilling permits issued in 2008, with similar numbers so far in 2009, actual drilling activity has dropped off by about one-third, a county official told The Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Plummeting natural gas prices are largely to blame, according to some industry analysts, but others blame more restrictive drilling regulations adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) in December after a year of negotiations and debate.

The state Legislature will take up those new regs in the next month or so, with some Republicans and even a Democrat or two promising a fight on certain aspects of the new regs — specifically when it comes to wildlife protections — according to The Durango Herald.

However, The Grand Junction Sentinel Monday reported a group of more than 60 retired state and federal wildlife officials sent a letter to state lawmakers urging passage of the regs as written.

And despite the massive drop in energy prices, various industry advocates continue to beat the oil shale drum despite its unproven technology. The Post Independent reports a local group has released a myth-busting fact sheet arguing alternatives will never displace the need for full-scale oil shale production.

And in other Grand Junction news, even as the specter of another energy bust along the lines of the early 1980s looms over Mesa County, the only industry perhaps more depressed is newspaper publishing.

The Grand Junction Free Press, launched in 2003 to compete with the Daily Sentinel, announced Monday it’s scaling back to three days a week because of the current advertising climate.

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