On-shore oil drilling booms in U.S., some areas of Colorado

On-shore oil drilling in the United States is at its highest level since the Reagan administration in 1987, according to the Baker Hughes Rig Count – an industry tracking service. That same national boom is also occurring in Colorado, according to state officials, who point to a flurry of new drilling permits and active wells in Weld County.

Nationally, Baker Hughes late last week reported the number of active oil rigs in the United States surged to 1,080 – the highest number since at least 1987. The boom is due mostly to unconventional oil fields in Colorado, North Dakota, Texas and other states, where hydraulic fracturing has opened up previously untapped oil reserves.

The Niobrara Shale Formation beneath Colorado’s northern Front Range is yielding more and more lucrative oil as opposed to natural gas, sparking a boom that has Colorado’s most-drilled county on pace to break its old record of 2,340 drilling permits issued in 2008. As of Sept. 9, 508 of those permits were for oil drilling.

“This year we’re on a record rate,” Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) director David Neslin said, according to the Windsor Beacon. “We’re on track to match or exceed the record.”

And companies are utilizing all those permits.

“There are more active wells in Weld County than in any other county in the United States,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway told the Beacon. “The tax revenues we’ve seen from the industry have been a real boon to our residents, businesses, special taxation districts and the state of Colorado.”

While Weld County has kept its property taxes low, it has an above-average poverty level and unemployment rate. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, 14.8 percent of Weld County residents were at or below national poverty levels in 2009, compared to 12.6 percent of all of Colorado. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics put Weld County’s unemployment rate at 10.2 percent in 2010, compared to 8.9 in Colorado overall.

According to the Greeley Tribune, Weld County’s unemployment rate earlier this year was the third highest among the state’s seven metropolitan areas, and the poverty rates for children in Greeley doubled in the previous decade to the second highest level among the state’s largest cities and counties.

The U.S. congressman who represents Weld County, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, has been a relentless champion of increasing domestic oil and gas production, introducing several bills aimed at rolling back federal regulations many GOP members claim have curtailed domestic drilling and cost American jobs.

But with oil and gas drilling at an all-time high around the country, many conservation groups are questioning the wisdom of rolling back environmental regulations.

Meanwhile, local officials in northern Colorado – from Routt to Weld County — continue to seek more regulatory authority to better deal with the latest boom.

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