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NOREEN: "Boom" at airport might not be sonic

By: BARRY NOREEN
March 29, 2011
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The potential of a natural gas boom has many eastern El Paso County property owners concerned, but energy exploration been a boon to, of all things, Colorado airports.

Richard Martin, a member of the board of directors for privately owned Meadow Lake Airport on Monday acknowledged that an energy company has inquired about a possible natural gas lease there. Martin said the board is far from a decision — in no small part because airport officials don’t even know for sure if the airport owns the mineral rights beneath it.

That’s not unusual. Since June 2009, the El Paso County assessor’s office has received thousands of requests from people trying to find out if sub-surface mineral rights are still attached to their properties.

It is common that such mineral rights have been severed from the property — sometimes generations ago. If so, energy companies can buy up mineral rights and there is little private property owners can do to stop the drilling.

“There are days when we get 100 inquiries a day on mineral rights and severed rights,” said El Paso County Assessor Mark Lowderman, who recently added an and oil and gas coordinator to his staff. Lowderman said his office is trying to be as proactive as possible, given the increasing interest in energy exploration in the county.

Colorado Springs Airport, 7,135 acres of it, has no natural gas leases. The Colorado Land Board controls mineral rights beneath portions of Peterson Air force Base and Colorado Springs Airport, but the city paid for long-term non-development rights, meaning that it would control any drilling on the state-owned land there.

“We have not been contacted at all,” said Agnes Blachut, airport spokeswoman.

That could change if a company finds gas nearby. There are leases now a few miles due east of the airport and other Colorado airports have been in the natural gas business for years.

Denver International Airport, with 34,000 acres, has 77 oil or gas wells now and has ambitious plans to step up drilling this year, with hopes of making $34 million from the business.

Before you say that sounds outlandish, consider that Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport made $30 million a year in 2008-2009 from drilling activity.

Even the tiny airport in Rifle will make about $34,000 this year from two natural gas drill pads, one of which is a directional well that bores beneath the airport’s runway.

“Overall, it’s worked out well for us,” Rifle Airport Manager Brian Condie said.

Why airports? They tend to have vast acreages and few neighborhood issues, and energy companies can deal with a single property owner on numerous wells.

Oh, it could happen here, all right.

Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and read his blog updates at gazette.com

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