Curry hopes surface use bill will be passed, signed by Owens
State Rep. Kathleen Curry said Thursday said she thinks chances are “excellent” that her surface use compensation bill will clear the legislature in some form or other.The Gunnison Democrat also is hopeful that Gov. Bill Owens, a former oil and gas lobbyist, will sign the measure because it represents a compromise between the energy industry and landowner interests.Owens spokesman Dan Hopkins said Thursday it’s too early to speculate about whether Owens will support the measure.Curry and Hopkins’ comments followed her bill’s unanimous approval by the House Transportation and Energy Committee Wednesday.The bill seeks to ensure that landowners receive fair compensation for drilling beneath their properties. Among other provisions, it would increase the bond that companies would have to post if they don’t reach an agreement with surface owners and want to proceed with drilling. It also would set up an appraisal process for settling disputes over compensation for lost land value due to oil and gas development.Several former attempts to pass similar legislation, including a bill introduced by Curry last year, all failed. This year’s measure also ran into early industry opposition, but more recently gained the support of some energy companies after Curry negotiated with them and agreed to amend the bill.She thinks the measure’s prospects are good because all sides gave something to reach an agreement.Transportation and Energy Committee Chairman Jack Pommer said half-jokingly about the compromise Wednesday, “Nobody’s smiling because everybody’s worried about what they’ve agreed to.”Said Curry, “It’s not what I would call a ‘Kumbaya’ moment. It’s what I would call grudging support for action, with everyone having to contribute to a solution, and everyone couldn’t get what they wanted, including the industry.”She added, “I think that will give us a leg up with the governor because I know he tries to find support from both sides before he approves a measure.”Some local landowners involved in the legislation have raised questions about a surface use bill’s chances with the governor, fearing that he would veto it, given his background. But growing support for the measure within the industry could decrease the chances of a veto.”Certainly if there’s consensus, that would mean a great deal, but I think we still have a ways to go,” Hopkins said.He noted that the measure probably will continue to change as it works its way through the legislature.The bill goes next to the House Appropriations Committee. To become law, it requires passage by both the House and Senate, and could undergo second and third readings by both bodies, Curry said. If the final House and Senate versions differ, a conference committee would try to reconcile those differences and the measure would then require passage again by the House and Senate. She said she expects Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, will carry the measure in the Senate.Curry said that while there are still some differences over the bill, over issues such as defining the damages that companies must compensate landowners for, she doesn’t think it needs a lot of work.She thinks the committee’s unanimous vote of support will send a message to the rest of the legislature that it is good legislation. She said she hasn’t had any discussions with Owens’ staff about it yet.Hopkins said the bill is drawing a lot of attention in the legislature, and Owens is following its progress as well.”It’s not something he’s expressed a viewpoint on at this point but is watching with interest and concern,” he said.
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