County supports surface rights bill | SteamboatToday.com

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County supports surface rights bill

The Routt County Board of Commissioners decided it would support a proposed bill that protects the rights of property owners when gas and oil companies drill under their land.

Earlier this week, members of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, a community group that is part of the Western Colorado Congress, talked with county commissioners and encouraged them to support Colorado House Bill 1219.

County commissioners Doug Monger and Dan Ellison said they would support the bill. County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak did not participate in the discussion.

The bill was in the House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources as of Thursday, according to the online records of the Colorado Legislature.

In testimony Feb. 16, many representatives of oil and gas companies said they opposed the bill, and other individuals, including representatives of farming organizations, said they supported the bill.

Margaret Berglund, organizer for the Western Colorado Congress, told county commissioners Tuesday that the demand for natural gas, and with it, the number of permits to drill, has skyrocketed. Last year, Routt County had 40 production wells and Moffat County had 500 production wells, she said.

Many landowners do not own mineral rights or rights to materials under the surface of their land, according to the Colorado Network for Landowner Protection. Therefore, landowners cannot prevent mineral development on their property.

In the past, the oil and gas operators only had to consult in good faith with the landowner about how surface conditions would be managed, Berglund said. If the two didn’t agree, the operator could drill anyway.

Drilling operations can result in decreased land value, dust and noise, large facilities, and safety hazards for children and livestock, said John Whittum, a Yampa Valley Community Alliance board member.

According to House Bill 1219, sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, and Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, the landowners and oil and gas operators would have to come to agreement about surface use before any drilling is done. That agreement includes issues such as the location of facilities, reclamation responsibilities, minimizing surface damages, and compensation to landowners for loss of value and other factors. If such an agreement were not possible, arbitration could come into the process.

“The oil and gas industry can afford to do it right,” Whittum said.

Berglund said that nine other states have similar surface use agreements and that nothing in the bill would stop development of oil wells.

Listening to the oil and gas companies, it would seem that the industry is getting hammered with different costs, Monger said. However, he said he didn’t think Routt County would be affected too greatly by the bill.

“I’d rather for the county to be sitting in the driver’s seat … than in the passenger seat as we’re going 150 down a 50 mph road,” Monger said.

Monger also said it would be helpful to look at the history of such regulations in other states to determine how they have worked.