Because Elbert County has natural gas resources like Garfield County's, Ms. Meixsell was invited by the Elbert County Democrats to present what she had discovered about drillers, landowner rights, contracts, health, safety, and environmental issues and to answer questions at the new Elizabeth Library Building, across from Big R, on Tuesday evening, June 7, 2011.
 Giving high marks to Elbert County homeowners associations who were already banding as consortiums to deal with oil and gas developers, Meixsell remarked that it was a "good" move because "they'll receive a fair deal for their mineral rights." It also guarantees that specific lease agreements are carried out.
 She sees no alternative to natural gas drilling. There won't be a moratorium anytime soon; "but we can make sure it's done responsibly."

 A few years later, natural gas drilling was beginning to happen in her end of Garfield County and her neighbors began to get concerned when they were contacted by development companies. "There was a meeting at the junior high school gym," similar to the meeting at the Exhibit Hall in January here in Elbert County, "and we received information-but it wasn't enough."
 The information at the junior high meeting did not, for instance, explain contracts or how to deal with those commissioned to buy mineral rights for development companies, or, really, what natural gas development looked like: "A well pad can be a hundred feet by a hundred feet, and it can have leaks or a whitish smoke coming out of the joints. It can be built well or it can have problems. A lot of that is a result of contracts."
 In answer to a question from an audience member among the 100 who attended regarding figuring whether he had mineral rights, Richard Miller, Development Director, suggested consulting Schedule B of the property paperwork, which disseminates such information. It leads a spectator to wonder why such basic information was not covered at the initial oil and gas meeting in January.
 Because of her work, concerned citizens can find out information on current and developing wells through wellwatch.org , a website that actually zeroes in on the wells in a given area; a "landman report card," detailing the shenanigans of unscrupulous representatives of the oil and gas companies, and detail health issues. "The burden of proof is on you when you're trying to prove that there's been harm."
Mentioned in the presentation but not emphasized, Tara Meixsell asked the question: "How much do your county officials depend on oil and gas and what are their feelings about it?"
She suggested that citizens call and find out. The Garfield BOCC has evidently dropped a health survey because it was a political liability. Just how concerned are they with their public's health?
"There are all sorts of people involved with the development of oil and gas," she remarked, "and some of them depend on the revenue it brings in. Some of your neighbors; some relatives of them. Are your elected officials in that group? Find out."
By William C. Thomas
T ara Meixsell moved to Garfield County with a view to settle on a small ranch, raise a couple of horses and enjoy rural life. Instead, she found herself in "the epicenter of a natural gas boom."
 Meixsell, a Newcastle resident, was first affected by the natural gas boom in her area in 2001 when she went to a small ranch across the county to buy hay: "for ten dollars a bale: a really good price." As she made her way to the ranch, she passed through a landscape "that looked like an Apollo launch site; industrial, with steel chain link fences and padlocked gates along a well-kept gravel road." The reason the hay was so cheap, she discovered, was because the owners of the ranch had decided to move out. "They were a retired couple who'd bought their place in order to have some space." Instead, they were forced out by the noise, traffic, and health issues.
 There is traffic and non-stop activity as well. Even an established well of five years needs maintenance: "and it means trucks continually going in and out; flares; smoke and emissions." It makes neighbors sick.
 Meixsell, who is not a community activist, engineer, geologist or environmentalist, became an organizer with the Grand Valley Citizens' Alliance: a group that shares information and uses it to better the community. "Decisions of this magnitude are not best made in your living room immediately; but that's what a landman wants you to do. He's offering you a contract for a lot of money suddenly and the company will put its well in a little part of your land-that's not informed. Most people aren't going to share that, either. You don't see people asking each other: 'How much did you get per acre?" The Grand Valley Citizens' Alliance is designed to take care of just that. "When we share information-about landmen, how much they offer per acre, what the contract says, how much in royalties were offered, and exactly what the lease says-that's powerful."
 She has not been merely an organizer, however; Meixsell is the author of Collateral Damage : a compilation of her experiences with natural gas development; associate producer of the film documentary " Split Estate ," and a consultant with the HBO film, " Gaslands ." Her advice to Elbert County is, essentially, to share information. She stressed that it was crucial to have a water test before drilling was to take place and that landowners "pool" together to create a consortium to deal with gas developers, rather than dealing on their own.
"Our responsibility lies in making sure we share," Meixsell concluded. "With this website," and one from MIT called ExtrAct, "we can actually track the health of citizens who have been affected by natural gas drilling."
A Revealing Seminar with Tara Meixsell:
Are You Ready for Natural Gas?
Photos: C. Thomas