Welcome to the new fantasy-island nation of Niobrara.
It’s a nation (see my blog) within the larger U.S.A., spanning state, county and municipal borders. It’s a country where lip service is paid to local rules and property ownership.
Seriously, (and all we Niobrarians had better get serious soon) the word “Niobrara” means “Running Water” and comes from a river in northern Nebraska and refers to a vast underground shale formation where oil and gas have been found. Much of Colorado’s Front Range, including Colorado Springs’ Banning Lewis Ranch, is in Niobrara, as are large portions of Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas.
Niobrarian religious devotion is about one thing — mineral rights. Given that Niobrara is governed by an assortment of energy companies, is follows that there is no separation between church and state, and there are no elections.
Most Niobrarians own land but don’t own the mineral rights beneath it. That means a Niobrarian is like a Lilliputian — a tiny creature who must contribute his own wealth for the greater good of the ruling class, the energy companies.
If oil and gas are found, El Paso County officials will be on a steep learning curve. Fortunately, many other Colorado counties have long experience in handling energy development.
Ed Murray, the Republican county treasurer in La Plata County, said when energy development comes, “it can be very beneficial, but you have to be very careful about some issues that develop.”
For instance, Murray said, drilling activity requires a lot of heavy equipment and “they can eat up some roads. Some of your infrastructure becomes an issue.”
Energy companies may be persuaded to negotiate payment for some impacts, but every Niobrarian should hear this, coming from Murray: “You can’t deny a sub-surface mineral owner the right to drill.”
Murray said business personal property tax (El Paso County is the only county without one) brings in some money, but the real cash is linked to production, should that occur. Even then, a county must be wary, he said, because production tax revenue is tied to market value and in the case of natural gas, that value has plummeted.
In La Plata County, Murray said, energy once accounted for 68 percent of the county’s revenue. Now, it’s down to 40 percent.
There would be a boom, followed by a bust.
Some make money, others eat dust.
State Rep. Marsha Looper has organized seminars to educate the public about the law and environmental impacts. The first meeting is on Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Mountain View Electric Association office on Woodmen Road.
Niobrarians, the time to educate yourselves is now.