If you are a property owner in Elbert County, there is a good chance that you have recently received a letter in the mail from a land agency. There is information in the letter that explains that a large oil and gas company is interested in engaging you in a lease. They want to drill for oil or gas or both. There is no pretense; they have money and they want to give it to you in return for your mineral rights.
Unless you are new to the county, the details might appear to be somewhat reminiscent of the toll road situation of a few years ago. Suffice it to say, a huge corporate entity or entities are interested in controlling a huge chunk of Elbert County resources. To be certain, the technology of extracting subsurface resources are safer than they used to be, but this project will have a definite impact on our ground water.
At first blush, this wholesale purchasing of the county's mineral resources does not appear to have nefarious underpinnings. Understand though that I am not suggesting that people should gleefully stand in line for an unexpected windfall without first doing their homework. As I have already stated, there will be a definite impact on our water in the near future. I want everyone to weigh that impact against any possible short-term gain they are willing to take.
My first thought, upon hearing from friends who live on the northern end of Elbert County, saying that they had been contacted, was that this was potentially very dangerous. You have probably seen the videos of people from Weld County and from residents near the town of Rifle having methane come up through their wells in sufficient quantities that the taps in their homes could be ignited with a match. That is a very scary proposition.
But thanks to some pretty keen research by toll road activist Mike Miller, it turns out that the fracking method that the oil and gas companies are currently using were unlikely to have caused the gas problems in both of those notable cases. It turns out that ground water basins are notoriously rife with gases. Not all gases have the same source however and it is relatively simple to find the source. If it smells, the chances are pretty slim it came from a fracking procedure because naturally occurring gases are odorless. Gases that come from rotting vegetable matter (biogenic gases) stink. The gases benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) are found in gas wells and because they weren't present in the above-mentioned cases it is unlikely they were at fault. The water in Weld County and Rifle smelled like rotting eggs.
Can gas wells leak? Of course they can. We spent months of our summer watching what can go wrong when an oil producer was careless in the Gulf of Mexico. Is their risk? Always. These procedure calls for the pumping of millions of gallons of water down into the deep recesses of the earth under extreme pressure. Those of you who are as old as me might remember the consequences of high pressure pumping at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. It was responsible according to some scientists for a period of increased earthquake activity. I sat through a pretty severe tremor in late 1967 while visiting my brother in the hospital. He was convalescing from a motorcycle accident and his bed traveled from one end of the room to another.
There are many questions that must be answered in regards to these procedures, not the least of which is from what well will the millions of gallons of water needed for fracking be pumped. The BOCC is strangely quiet on the topic. Some experts say that the county stands to make a killing on the drilling. Estimates of up to 9% of the value of the resources may go into county coffers? What is the Elbert County position on using the limited ground water that we have for purposes of drilling oil and gas? Do overlay water districts get a green light from the BOCC to gather up any un-adjudicated water rights for this purpose. Do residents have a say in these decisions? It is mind boggling when you think of how desperate for cash our county is. Desperation is not a great position from which to bargain or make long lasting decisions.