County commissioners OK change to oil and gas rule
A new rule that would change how natural gas producers do business with surface landowners passed muster with the Garfield County commissioners Monday, but not until opponents spoke out strongly against it.County oil and gas auditor Doug Dennison said the proposed rule change would allow surface owners who do not own the rights to the minerals beneath their land, to request an on-site inspection of a proposed well pad. That inspection would have to take place before the COGCC issued a permit to drill. Current rules do not allow surface owners the ability to request a site inspection, Dennison said.The rule outlines impacts for consideration, including visual, noise, dust, groundwater, safety and wildlife.COGCC representatives and the drilling operator and a local government designee, would conduct the inspection in this case, Dennison said. Allowing local government officials to be part of the process is something new, he said.Further, under the current rules, if an operator can’t negotiate a surface use agreement with the surface owner, the operator has the ability to post a bond on the well with the COGCC. “Then they can go ahead and drill the well, and it’s up to surface owner to recover what they consider unreasonable damages,” Dennison said.Bonds are posted in the amount of $2,000 for wells on non-irrigated land and $5,000 on irrigated land, Dennison said. An operator can also post a statewide bond of $25,000.The rule change would not affect this bonding ability.Under the rule change, the COGCC couldn’t issue a permit to drill until the inspection takes place. If the surface owner wasn’t happy with results of the inspection, he or she could request a hearing in front of the COGCC on the matter.The language of the proposed rule change was drafted by Club 20, and was brought to the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board on Dec. 2. The EAB voted to accept the wording and recommend it to the county commissioners.Members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance objected to the proposed rule change and urged the county commissioners to wait until legislation that would protect surface owners from drilling impacts can be framed and passed.Newly elected state Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison has said she will propose legislation to protect the rights of surface land owners. “This rule change is really weak,” said GVCA president Duke Cox. “It is premature, ill-prepared and did not receive adequate discussion. … What good is one more bad rule?”He asked the commissioners yo return the matter to the advisory board for further discussion.”Our big concern is if the legislation would not be presented (to the legislature) this would be in place. We had heard it was successful in La Plata County,” said EAB chairman Sam Potter.The commissioners were divided on the rule change. Commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin favored the rule change Monday, and Commissioner Trési Houpt supported legislation.”The rule should not preclude any attempts to pass the legislation,” Martin said. “We need to put something in place right now so we have some sort of protection for our citizens.”Houpt said adopting the rule would preclude legislation. “To me, if you adopt the rule, you have just created a strong argument against passing legislation.”Diana Woolston of the Western Colorado Congress agreed: “You’re fooling yourself if you don’t think it will be used to kill legislation.””I don’t know if it will help, but I’m willing to give it a shot,” Commissioner Larry McCown said.Dennison also supported the rule change.”In my opinion, if we do anything to delay the issuance of a permit, there’ll be an incentive for operators to negotiate with surface owners because time is money and it will force them to do more up front in planning (to drill). … I may be naive how it will play out, but I’m personally willing to give it a try.”COGCC, which will ultimately adopt or reject the rule, will take the commissioners’ endorsement of the rule change, which passed 2-1 with Houpt voting against, as a recommendation.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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