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WELD COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Several of Colorado’s oil and gas companies are making layoffs and allowing their rigs to sit idle due in part to the effects of COVID-19, according to economic experts who discussed the situation during a public phone call Thursday morning.

“Obviously Weld County gets the biggest impact of this because they’re such a large producer,” said Dr. Richard Wobbekind, an associate dean at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

“The silver lining  – if you will, for northern Colorado – is that Larimer, Weld County have been extremely strong growth economies and have diversified over time into more professional business services and other things – not just energy – so their economies should have more resilience at this particular point in time,” he said.

Mark Finley, the Fellow in Energy and Global Oil at Rice University’s Baker Institute, said the world is “in the midst of the biggest and fastest global decline in oil demand” that has ever occurred. While he referred  the situation a “scary time,” he said he is optimistic.

“In the Colorado economy and the U.S. economy, we have the most productive and innovative system in the world,” he said. “Stick to it. I think those are factors that will serve us well on the backside of this crisis.”

Finley said the country’s oil rig count fell an unprecedented 45 percent in the span of six weeks. “During the last oil market downturn, it took almost three times as long to see that large of a decline,” he said. “We’re already seeing an unprecedented decline in investment and job losses in our industry.”

Recently, companies like Halliburton and the fracking service Liberty Oil announced massive layoffs in the state.

“We need to effectively address this health crisis and get people back to work, so that markets can begin to function again.” said Dan Haley, who represents the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA). “In order to survive, oil and gas companies have laid off thousands of employees and dialed back billions in investment in a very short period. This industry typically provides $1 billion in state and local taxes each year, with $600 million going to public education alone. A sizeable portion of that revenue could be missing this year.”

Advocacy groups, like the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans, sent a letter to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, asking the group to be prepared for the possibility of new orphaned wells and other issues that might result with bankruptcies and financial struggles.

“We just want to make sure that while all this unrest is happening that the commission has a plan to make sure that Colorado residents are still safe and protected and that oil and gas operations are being conducted as safely as possible,” said Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, who represents the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans.

“At this point I don’t see (orphan wells) as a big concern, but I think it’s something we need to keep our focus on,” said Jeff Robbins, the director of COGCC. Robbins promised the commission would produce a white paper response to several questions the commission received about shut-in and orphaned wells. He said the commission plans to meet again May 11.