Oil hard to find on Soapstone

A group exploring ways to lessen the effects of drilling in open-space areas owned by the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County so far has seen mixed participation from oil and natural-gas companies.

A few representatives of the companies have attended preliminary meetings with members of Energy by Design, the group that is formulating a plan to restrict drilling in some areas of the open spaces south of the Wyoming border in mostly Larimer County. But the companies have not yet engaged in important planning discussions on the matter, Energy by Design group members said.

The plan being developed by Energy by Design concerns 60,000 acres teeming with rare plants and wildlife. The city and county own surface rights to the land, while the State Land Board owns mineral rights on 15,000 acres. Various private parties own the other mineral rights.

Led by city, county and state officials as well as The Nature Conservancy, Energy by Design’s efforts come as the drilling boom in the Niobrara shale formation in the Denver-Julesburg Basin continues.

The open spaces, known as Soapstone, Red Mountain and Meadow Springs, are seen as having less potential for development than areas to the southeast in Weld County, though the oil companies have invested in the area.

Marathon Oil representatives have participated in meetings with Energy by Design, but representatives of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., a major leaseholder in the area, only attended an introductory meeting in November.

“They haven’t come to our technical workshops,” said Megan Kram, project manager for The Nature Conservancy. “We haven’t yet sat down with them, but we are definitely looking to do so.”

Kram did not know why the company failed to participate.

Energy by Design is not working to prevent oil and gas development in the areas. Rather, it is seeking to balance energy development while conserving nature, archeological sites, scenery and recreation in the areas.

“By not participating at this point, they could have been building relationships with the city and county that, if and when they want to develop their holdings, it would make things easier for all who are involved,” Kram said.

Representatives of Anadarko and Marathon declined to comment.

Daylan Figgs, the city’s natural areas senior environmental planner, said Energy by Design will continue to reach out to oil and gas producers to get them involved because it wants to ensure the plan works for them.

Companies have attended some meetings on the nature of the plan, he said. Energy by Design has invited them to other meetings on details of the plan, but “for whatever reasons, they’ve chose not to participate.”

“They have not been involved directly in the planning process, but we have sat down and made them aware of the planning process,” he said.

Figgs said he was confident that producers will come to an understanding about the importance of Energy by Design’s work and will eventually decide to work with the organization.

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