COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Colorado Springs could soon be seeing oil and gas drilling towers rise from the eastern plains.
Ultra Petroleum recently bought 18,000 acres in Banning Lewis Ranch. The company wants to use hydraulic fracking to extract energy.
It's a process that is becoming more popular in the United States and there's a growing interest in eastern El Paso County.
Fracking is a form of natural gas drilling, according to the Oil & Gas Commission.
"It gives oil and gas companies access to resources that they previously did not have access to," said Craig Dossey, project manager of the EPC development services division.
According to UCCS geologist professor George Bolling, the process begins with vertical and horizontal drilling through thousands of feet of rock and soil. A pipe is inserted and encased with concrete to prevent leaks. Then, a fracking fluid is injected at extremely high pressure, causing the rock to crack.
?You increase laterally flow so you can recover more oil and gas further away from the well,? said Bolling.
The fluid used is a mixture of water, sand and chemicals. Those chemicals are causing a big concern across the nation.
Some people believe their drinking water could be contaminated with methane. Whether or not it comes from fracking, is still up for debate.
There is also no scientific link between fracking and health effects. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating.
So is El Paso County.
"The main objective is to protect public health, air quality and water quality," said EPC director of environmental health, Tom Gonzales.
The county is now drafting oil and gas land regulations.
"What if one of these companies hits a viable resource? How are we going to regulate production of the resource?? said Dossey.
It's not just water the county is concerned with, but what could happen on the surface?
"Typically production is where you feel the most impact on roads, on environment on adjacent property owners," said Dossey.
In October, Ultra Petroleum bought 18,000 acres in Banning Lewis Ranch after it filed bankruptcy.
Ultra plans to drill three vertical wells in the area.
"We could be turning east Colorado into an oil patch," said Bolling.
Bolling said it could be a real economic boom to eastern El Paso County, bringing hundreds of high-power technical jobs to the area.
It's not quite the vision the city had in mind for eastern Colorado Springs. Two decades ago, the land was annexed to include 180,000 residents and 75,000 homes.
The city and the energy company are currently negotiating oil and gas operations.
The city provided this statement about fracking in Colorado Springs:
?Chief of Staff Steve Cox is leading an internal team to apprise the Mayor on options that the City may consider in addressing oil and gas exploration/production on Banning Lewis Ranch. Planning staff is preparing a status memo for the group, which will be used as a basis for internal team discussion. We expect the mayor?s report will be completed in 30 days. City planners have attended the public workshops hosted by Rep. Marsha Looper, and are coordinating with County planners. The City zoning code regulates underground mining as a conditional use in the agricultural zone, subject to a list of performance criteria.?
Meanwhile, the county has drafted land-use regulations for oil and gas companies.
A two-week public comment period is open until Nov. 14.
Click on the link below to view draft. http://adm.elpasoco.com/Development%20Services/Pages/default.aspx
The Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing and submit recommendations to the county commissioners in late November or December. A final decision is expected by late January.
The Colorado Oil and Gas commission has also launched the nation?s first statewide voluntary groundwater monitoring program for their industry.
The program began on Tuesday and has no timeline to end.
The plan is to test groundwater before and after drilling a well to determine initial water quality and whether subsequent drilling had any impact.