Usually you can clear a room by beginning a discussion about tributary groundwater.
Yet that and other tedious topics held about 300 El Paso County citizens in rapt attention Tuesday in Falcon. With the possibility of an oil boom approaching, the industry — with its warts and riches — has stirred up folks on the high, quiet plains.
No oil strikes have been announced, but a rich vein of angst has been exposed.
Is there oil thousands of feet deep, beneath what is known as the Niobrara Shale Formation? The general public doesn’t know and if anyone else does, the secret is being closely held.
What we do know is that energy companies have spent millions in buying mineral leases or paying for land outright. The biggest move was made recently by Houston-based Ultra Resources, which bid more than $26 million in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for an 18,000-acre swath of the Banning Lewis Ranch, all included in the Colorado Springs city limits.
But scores of mineral leases have been agreed to, including some on Colorado State Trust land in the county.
Some property owners hope to strike it rich, some are concerned and some are scared. So Colorado Rep. Marsha Looper, whose House district includes most of the territory in question, organized the Niobrara Oil and Gas Summit, featuring officials from several state agencies.
Residents asked questions like “what are the chances my water well will be polluted by oil and gas drilling?” and “what kind of a buffer zone is required, how close can the rigs get to my house?”
The answers informed but generally did not soothe.
There is little chance of water pollution, said David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, adding that the buffer space between a drilling pad and a home can be as little as 175 feet.
Mostly, Neslin and representatives from the Colorado Geological Survey, the Colorado State Engineer’s office and others told the nervous crowd there is little to be nervous about.
Some didn’t buy it.
“Typical big government,” said Dave Brescia, who owns 40 acres (and the mineral rights) near Ellicott. “I have put off the oil companies. I have refused to sign a lease.”
Many others won’t have Brescia’s choice. If you don’t own mineral rights beneath your land, the owner of those rights can lease them out from under you, and that’s already happening.
Brescia refers to his place as “my little postage stamp of land.” Even if he holds out, lands adjacent to him already are under lease.
If there are pollution problems, dust or noise nearby, he’ll just have to endure it.
“I moved here in 1998,” Brescia said. “I came here for a reason. Peace and quiet. You don’t give that up for a short-term gain.”
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