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By William C. Thomas

At least 300 Elbert County residents assembled for a presentation and panel discussion by experts on oil and gas drilling and exploration at the Exhibit Hall on the Elbert County Fairgrounds in Kiowa on Tuesday night, January 18, 2011; many in response to overtures from oil and gas exploration companies, which have been contacting residents since late fall about leasing.
"Elbert County is not a producing county, but it will be," Neil Ray, President of the National Association of Royalty Owners, (NARO), told the assembly, because of the Niobrara oil shale formation, 50 miles wide in some places, which goes as far east as Goodland, KS; as far north as North Dakota; and ends somewhere before Highway 83 enters El Paso County, where Focus on the Family is located. Elbert County is on top of its southwestern rim.
The mixture for fracking, (a method whereby the shale is broken into little cracks by water pressure and sand to release the oil and gas), the video assured, is "99.5% sand and water." The video's narrator went on to say they've been drilling this way for 60 years and have never had a problem. Downplaying the video's claims, Ray inferred that there had been "problems," but his message was chiefly to urge the assembled to join NARO, which lobbies on behalf of lease holders and influences legislation, disseminates information, publishes a newsletter and a step-by-step guide to negotiating with energy companies. He did not mention membership fees: $105.00 will buy the basic package; the deluxe package is $500.00, according to his brochure.
Sponsored by the Elbert County Department of Public Health, the experts presented an hour of information, then spent the next hour answering questions.
Because of the advent of horizontal drilling, Ray said, it was now possible to drill for oil in shale formations and the Niobrara was yielding treasure. The video he showed, produced by the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, explained how the well was drilled: so many feet down, then turned 90 degrees to the right. The large pipes inserted in the well would be lined with three inches of concrete in the aquifer and above the below it so the water would be untouched. After the pipe was inserted, the "fracking" would begin.
Dr. Jerry Koch, longtime Elbert County resident, whose spouse, Paula, is also a geologist, took the microphone to explain that drilling could be beneficial for Elbert County, citing examples from the Oklahoma and Kansas oil strikes with which he has been associated: "There are some amazing schools and other civic improvements" directly related to oil and gas royalties and the taxes they create.
Dr. Koch went through the steps exploration companies would take: trucks would "shoot seismic:" a method whereby the ground would vibrate and sonar pictures would be taken of what is beneath the surface; construction on rigs would begin; pipes would be inserted; the concrete would be put in place; fracking would begin. "This is rich source rock," he explained, "surrounded by brittle limestone." The limestone fractures and the oil oozes out, "cooked down there." Dr. Koch did not explain how it was cooked, short of mentioning that fracking mixtures contained chemicals that can be found "in every household."

Adamant that "water is precious," Koch explained that current methods "preserve every drop."
Koch feels that Elbert County will soon be awash with oil and gas explorers because of the brittleness of the limestone and the "sweet spots:" reservoirs of oil within the formation itself. "Companies are looking for those," he pointed out, and it looks like Elbert County has some. One in Weld County has produced 60,000 barrels of oil so far."
Koch assured the audience that the fracking fluids "would not come straight up" because of the cement casing protecting the aquifer.
Dr. Koch was followed by experts from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, who explained environmental safeguards and their roles in enforcing them, including a study of water quality before and after drilling. What it comes down to: If water quality has deteriorated, the oil company has to make it right, no matter the cost.
Richard Miller, whose office handles zoning and planning for the County, outlined the need to develop specific requirements for Elbert County on Oil and Gas Exploration, specifically regarding roads and land use. Mentioning Weld County, which is currently dealing with these very issues, Miller said he'd been in contact with his equal in that County and had wanted to copy the example.
A question-answer period followed the presentations. Mary Sue Liss of Elbert County Public Health, the hostess of the event, made certain that anyone whose question had not been answered would have the opportunity to address it on the 3x5 index card on each of the folding chairs in the Exhibit Hall.
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