Colorado's Piceance Basin: Variation in the Local Public Finance Effects of Oil and Gas Development


A large increase in natural gas production occurred in western Colorado’s Piceance basin in the mid- to late-2000s, generating a surge in population, economic activity, and heavy truck traffic in this rural region. We describe the fiscal effects related to this development for two county governments: Garfield and Rio Blanco, and two city governments: Grand Junction and Rifle. Counties maintain rural road networks in Colorado, and Garfield County’s ability to fashion agreements with operators to repair roads damaged during operations helped prevent the types of large new costs seen in Rio Blanco County, a neighboring county with less government capacity and where such agreements were not made. Rifle and Grand Junction experienced substantial oil- and gas-driven population growth, with greater challenges in the smaller, more isolated, and less economically diverse city of Rifle. Lessons from this case study include the value of crafting road maintenance agreements, fiscal risks for small and geographically isolated communities experiencing rapid population growth, challenges associated with limited infrastructure, and the desirability of flexibility in the allocation of oil- and gas-related revenue.

This research was carried out at the Duke University Energy Initiative with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.