- Courtesy of San Juan Citizen Alliance
- More natural gas wells, like this one on Colorados Western Slope, are likely to appear along the Front Range.
As a Texas company moves ahead with plans to search for natural gas underneath a mountain northwest of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service says no environmental regulations exist that could halt the project.
"It will happen," said Brent Botts, district ranger for Pike National Forest. "It's just a question of how and where it will happen that is being worked out."
Texas-based Dyad Petroleum will set up two exploratory wells around Mount Herman, just west of Monument. To get to the wells, the company will build up to a half-mile stretch of new road, Botts said.
The area is a habitat for numerous plants and wildlife, including elk and mountain lions.
Ain't so clean
It is unclear exactly how much gas and oil lies beneath the mountain, but environmentalists fear that if the company finds gas or oil, it will fuel an outright scramble for natural resources in the forests and other open lands that span the Front Range.
"It's pretty intensive development," said Rocky Smith, a forest watch coordinator for nonprofit Colorado Wild. "People think of natural gas as clean, but getting it out of the ground ain't so clean."
Dyad did not return calls seeking comment, but Smith said a new road could create erosion while bringing industrial traffic and pollution, which would disturb the region's wildlife. The wells themselves could unearth rock, some possibly containing arsenic and other harmful pollutants that would need to be safely disposed, he added.
Federal foresters currently are conducting an environmental assessment of the project. But that won't place any significant dampers on Dyad's bid because the company bought the rights to the resources that lie underneath the mountain, Botts said.
The project in Pike is part of a statewide boom in natural gas and oil exploration, spurred by demand for lower gasoline and heating prices, said Brian Macke, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
"It's very remarkable growth that we've been seeing," Macke said.
Dwarfing the record
If official estimates hold, between 2003 and the end of this year the state will have witnessed a 71 percent increase in gas and oil permits. In 2003, the state awarded 2,245 permits to energy companies. By the end of this year, the commission anticipates having awarded 3,850 permits, Macke said.
That will dwarf the record set just last year, when there were 2,917 permits.
The trend is disappointing to Environment Colorado, which lobbied heavily for a renewable energy initiative that Colorado voters approved in 2004.
"A lot of talk goes, 'We can drill our way out,'" said Stephanie Bonin, an energy advocate with the nonprofit. "It's really the opposite. We're drilling into larger problems."
Specifics of how the state's energy companies will meet the voters' goal of providing a combination of wind, solar and hydropower by 2015 still are being ironed out. Yet Bonin speculated that as cleaner-to-extract energy begins to come online, market pressures should at least slow the pace of oil and gas permitting in Colorado.
Just last year, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Denver and several surrounding counties a smog zone, prompting the state to create a large-scale pollution reduction plan under the threat of losing federal highway dollars.
-- Michael de Yoanna