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1/17/2013 Future of fracking in Custer County to be topic of Tuesday forum

Oil and gas wells are being drilled closer and closer to the Wet Mountain Valley. Is there oil or gas under the Wet Mountain Valley? What is going on in Huerfano County and Wetmore? Could the aquifer beneath the Valley floor be contaminated if fracking occurs? What rights do owners and/or lessors of subsurface mineral rights have on their property?

Local conservation groups and the Custer County Library have joined together to offer the community some answers. The “Fracking Forum” will be held next Tuesday, January 22, from 6-7:30 p.m. at the library in downtown Westcliffe to present results of their research. A snow date has been set for Thursday, January 24.

The forum will address potential local impacts of oil and gas exploration, extraction, and fracking in the Wet Mountain Valley. It is intended to be an overview, educational in nature, and not a debate on the pros and cons of the current “fracking” process or the desirability of local oil and gas development, according to Sue Pitman of Sustainable Ways, the Forum coordinator.

Speakers will include archaeologist Gary Zeigler and Ben Lenth, executive director of San Isabel Land Protection Trust. Gary Taylor, paleontologist and retired exploration geologist and manager in the petroleum industry as well as Doug Cain, retired USGS hydrologist, will be available to answer questions.

Lenth will be addressing property rights. “In Custer County, many landowners do not own the mineral rights under their land,” he said. “When mineral estates are severed, landowners may have relatively little control over oil and gas operations by a third party.  It behooves landowners not only to know if they do or don’t own their mineral rights, but also what potential resources are there.”

According to Pitman, “fracking” is a hot-button issue of the moment in our region, probably because it has opened new areas to oil and gas development and it requires such large amounts of water.

According to Pitman, “The fracking of shale formations to free oil and gas has been utilized for over 60 years with few negative consequences.  The controversy began when, in 1998, the practice of ‘horizontal’ hydraulic fracturing was introduced, incorporating chemicals into the water and sand fracking fluid to make the process more efficient.  This ‘new’ method requires up to five million gallons of water for each fracking event and renders the water a hazardous waste material that cannot be used again or re-introduced onto the ground or into rivers and streams.”

The sponsoring groups are CSU Extension Service, Custer County Conservation District, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, San Isabel Land Protection Trust, Sustainable Ways, and the West Custer County Library.

For more information, see www.sustainableways.org.