Higher gas, gold prices boost firms

marketing8Colorado’s energy economy was humming a decade ago as robust prices buoyed the outlook for virtually every natural resource commodity.

Oil and oil shale, molybdenum, coal, uranium – it looked like a bonanza well into the 21st century.

Alas, early in the 1980s the prices of petroleum and virtually every mineral went south overnight. Drilling rigs were abandoned. Mines shut down. Grand plans for oil from shale disintegrated.

Late in the decade, things turned around again. Lean, productive companies became profitable. Optimism expanded this month when record cold temperatures propelled heating oil and propane prices to the highest levels in years.

Perhaps the brightest outlook for the 1990s is for Colorado’s energy companies strong in natural gas.

“I see the market for natural gas as being pretty darn rosy over the next decade,” said Don Basler, marketing manager for WestGas, an affiliate of Denver-based Public Service Co. of Colorado.

“I think Colorado in particular is going to profit pretty handsomely from that.”

Reasons for optimism about natural, said Basler, include the environmental benefits of clean-burning gas, along with increasing uses of gas as an alternate fuel. In addition, the expanding cogeneration market ordinarily burns natural gas in its production of electricity and other products – such as carbon dioxide or tomatoes.

“Natural gas has the greatest amount of price stability for the ’90s,” said Basler.

Benefiting from that natural gas outlook, in addition to WestGas, will be a host of well-positioned Denver-based companies, including Apache Corp., Plains Petroleum Co., Associated Natural Gas Corp., Western Gas Processors Ltd., Hamilton Oil Corp. and DeKalb Energy Co.

After half a decade of despair, mining industries are well on the way to recovery. The survivors boast a lean, productive and are profitable again.

One hopeful sign is that gold closed the decade above $400 an ounce. Metals analysts expect to see the precious metal in the $425 to $450 range early in 1990. And depending on interest rates and the world’s changing political climate, the price could shoot much higher.

While Colorado is a small-timer in gold production, metro Denver has emerged as the industry hub. With the dozens of mining companies headquartered here, the Colorado School of Mines’ George Ansell touts Denver as the Silicone Valley of mining.

Overall, says David Cole of the Colorado Mining Association, the industry wound up 1989 on an upbeat note, and he expects 1990 to be at least as strong.

Strong clean air legislation will boost demand for coal in low-sulfur production areas such as Colorado and Wyoming.