Bonanza on the plains? Oil, gas companies focusing on eastern El Paso County

March 07, 2011

Landowners are being courted by energy companies that want to drill on their land, and drilling rights on huge swaths of state land, nearly 75,000 acres in eastern El Paso County, have been leased since 2007, as industry speculators look for the next big " play ."

In Colorado, mineral ownership can be severed from property ownership, meaning one person can own wha t' s above the ground and another can own wha t' s below on a section of land. State law says the surface owner must provide access to the minerals, with owners usually compensated by energy companies.

Unlike other Colorado counties, El Paso County has never had a commercial well. Not a drop of oil has been discovered, and the only natural gas find belongs to a private resident who was drilling a water well, struck gas and now culls it for private use, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

El Paso County has 98 plugged oil or gas wells -- drills that did n' t produce -- along with one abandoned well from 1911, four sites that were permitted but never drilled and five active permits for exploratory drilling throughout the county .

Denver-based Pine Ridge Oil and Gas owns leases on more than half of the 74,729 acres in El Paso County that the Colorado State Land Board has sold mineral rights for in recent years.

The land board sells mineral rights to drill on state land, known as a lease, at quarterly auctions, based on requests by energy companies, with the revenue going to Colorado schools. The company has 10 producing oil wells in Fremont County, said CEO Andy Lydyard. He is optimistic about striking oil here.

Ross said anyone on a well should have a baseline test of their untreated water. "I' ve just heard way too many reports of impacts and if people do n' t have baseline testing, they ca n' t prove it ," Ross said. There are other affects on rural life too, mostly during drilling, including noise, dust and construction of new roads. A well head stands on the land for 20 to 40 years.


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