By David Frey, Oct 25, 08, Aspen Daily News Correspondent , Glenwood Springs

The economic crisis could have benefits in the Roaring Fork Valley, researchers say, by slowing down some of the growth pressures in a part of the country that has been insulated from the worst of the downturn.

“It may afford a little breathing room,” said Ben Alexander, associate director of Headwaters Economics, an independent, nonprofit research group, appearing at Healthy Mountain Communities’ 2008 State of the Valley Symposium.

Pitkin County could see a drop in sky-high home prices, said state demographer Jim Westkott, and Garfield County could see a slowing of the gas industry that could help the county catch up with some of the impacts.

Researchers found that the gas boom that has fueled growth in Garfield County has had a fairly minor impact on most workers’ wallets. A socioeconomic profile by Headwaters Economics found oil and gas represented 10 percent of personal income in the county and 6 percent of total employment. The industry represents 1.9 percent of state revenues.

They warned that if Garfield County focuses too much on developing the oil and gas industry, it could lead to environmental impacts that could discourage other industries in favor of one notorious for booms and busts.

“I think state government, local government, has to think about what’s best for Colorado, not for the energy companies, and I don’t think we’ve done a good job with that,” Alexander said.

Alexander warned that Garfield County’s gas boom days may begin waning soon. Natural gas prices hit a 13-month low on Thursday, closing at $6.419 per million BTUs on the New York Mercantile Exchange, due to better-than average fuel reserves and a souring economy expected to reduce demand. Some industry representatives believe that at around that price, hard-to-reach reserves like western Colorado’s gas fields stop being profitable.

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