Thursday, February 19, 2015

Denver Post runs three-part series on housing, agriculture and extraction industries in metropolitan/exurban/rural Weld County, Colorado

Mark Jaffe and Kevin Johnson wrote this three-part series, published this past week, for the Denver Post.  Weld County is in north central Colorado.  Its population is 269,785, and its population density is 63.4 persons per square mile.  Greeley, population 96,539, is the county seat.  Weld County is part to the Greeley Metropolitan Area, which in turn is part of the Denver-Aurora Combined Statistical Area.  Yet it includes rural pockets and, as other posts about Weld County here, here, and here suggest, is often thought of as manifesting a rural culture.  Now to the Post's series.

Part I, "Drilling Rigs and Housing Developments Face Off in Denver Suburbs," was published on February 13, 2015, and its dateline is Erie, population 18,135.  Erie actually straddles Boulder and Weld counties, and its population has nearly tripled since the 2000 census.  Here's an excerpt:
The state has issued nearly 5,000 Front Range drilling permits in the past two years — most in Weld County. 
Powered by the ability to drill 2-mile-long horizontal wells and release oil from hard shale with hydrofracturing, or "fracking," drilling rigs are pushing closer to homes. 
At the same time, suburbs are sprawling onto the plains — the six Front Range counties where drilling has occurred added nearly 105,000 residents between 2010 and 2013 — and at the edges, houses and drill rigs collide. 
In some communities, such as Lafayette and Fort Collins, the clash has led to drilling bans and industry lawsuits to overturn them. In others grassroots groups are opposing drilling projects. 
Local governments, such as Erie, have sought to address residents' concerns, and drillers are searching for ways to limit their impact. Ultimately, whether communities and drillers coexist or remain in conflict depends on whether they can find some common ground.
Part II, "Weld County Agriculture and Energy Intersect in Nuanced Relationship," was published on Feb. 16, 2015.  Here is a key excerpt:
With more than 3,500 farms and ranches spread out over more than 3,000 square miles, Weld County is Colorado's agricultural juggernaut. And now, it also hosts the most concentrated oil and gas operations in the state, creating a sometimes-awkward balancing act of interests amid an economic power surge. 
Concerns over water — quality and quantity — have particular resonance for farmers and ranchers. Vast increases in traffic on rural roads can create health and safety concerns for people and livestock.
It includes this quote from fourth-generation farmer Dennis Hoshiko, described as having spearheaded a movement for surface owners' rights:
Having two major industries vying for use of the same real estate often makes for an uneasy and sometimes contentious coexistence.  Yes, domestic oil and gas production is vital to our nation's well-being, but so is domestic food production. And when push comes to shove, I like to eat more than I like to drive my car.
Part III, "Weld County's Energy Boom Moves Small Towns to Revisit Identities," was published on February 17, 2015. The story features towns such as Eaton, population 4,567, and Kersey, population 1,454.  Here's an excerpt:
The money that has flowed with the tapping of the Niobrara Formation revved the economic engine for an entire region, but small communities sprinkled across the map have been presented with uniquely transformative opportunities and challenges.
The arrival of the energy industry sparked expansion and annexation, filled local restaurants and provided new customers for other businesses. But it also brought an annoying onslaught of noise and traffic and uncertain environmental consequences. 
For schools, it has showered benefits from bikes to buses but also lured district workers — sometimes even teachers — away to more lucrative oil field jobs. 
New tax revenue and corporate cooperation have helped towns expand their infrastructure. But while the growth has given rise to rooftops in some corners, it also has underscored a housing crunch in others.
* * *  
But the broader view across Weld County has been complicated by the more immediate volatility of crude oil prices, which fell off severely in December. And while town officials don't sound panicked, some are preparing for a lull in activity that could impact their bottom line.  
Overall, I thought Johnson painted a rosier picture than I anticipated of the energy industry's impact on Weld County.   Jaffe's piece on housing vs. drilling rigs seemed more balanced.     

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