Curry revamps surface-use bill
State Rep. Kathleen Curry has raised the stakes in her effort to change how oil and gas development is regulated in Colorado.The Gunnison Democrat said Thursday she has expanded the scope of her surface-use bill and is seeking more comprehensive reforms in the way the energy industry is governed.Curry’s House Bill 1219 seeks to level the playing field between property owners and mineral rights owners. The bill is scheduled for a vote on Monday in the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, of which Curry is chairwoman.Among the reforms the bill now proposes:– The mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would be revised to say oil and gas must be developed in a way that protects the property values of surface owners.– All future members of the commission must meet new conflict of interest standards, based on language borrowed from the standards that apply to state Public Utilities Commission members.– It would be clarified that state law does not limit local governments from enacting land use regulations regarding oil and gas development.Curry said she added these provisions after consulting with bill proponents who feared that in amending the bill so it might pass, she was diluting it to the point that it had little value.”They feel we need to go this route or have nothing at all. So I’m going to give it a shot on Monday,” she said.The provisions address long-controversial aspects of energy regulation that weren’t previously a part of the debate over Curry’s bill. Traditionally, oil and gas regulation has been regulated almost exclusively by the state, with little authority granted to local governments. In addition, industry critics have long criticized the COGCC’S mission and its makeup. They say it is too heavily represented by people who have an oil and gas background and are sympathetic to the industry. Past legislative efforts to address the makeup of the commission have failed, with defenders of the status quo saying the commission must have expertise that comes with industry experience.Curry said she came up with the revised version of her bill during a meeting with a coalition of agriculture, homebuilders, Realtors, environmental and local government interests that have backed the measure.Curry’s bill originally was written primarily in an effort to force energy developers to reach surface-use agreements with property owners before drilling, in order to provide them with reasonable compensation for damages. Where negotiations failed, the bill required an appraisal process, and then arbitration if necessary.Curry removed those steps after the industry said the bill would cause too much delay in drilling. Instead, she proposed to allow drillers to proceed, but only after posting a bond of $10,000 per well, compared to as little as $2,000 now. But those changes left bill supporters disillusioned.”People out in Garfield County didn’t like it. It was probably passable but it didn’t accomplish the goals” of the bill, she said.Curry since has raised the proposed bond requirement to $25,000. She also added the other provisions in an attempt to better satisfy proponents of the original bill who objected to allowing any drilling without a surface-use agreement.However, Curry said she has taken criticism for her revised bill from the industry. She said part of her goal in revising the bill was to respond to a request from the industry that the COGCC be given more authority in the process of resolving surface-use disputes, as opposed to turning matters over to appraisers and arbitrators. She said the bill would require that property owners be given 60 days of advance notice before drilling, rather than 30 days, as is now the case. If a surface-use agreement isn’t reached, the property owner may ask the COGCC to require that compensation be provided or corrective action be taken to address any loss of value of the surface estate, crop loss, land damage or damage to improvements. The bill no longer seeks to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable losses, Curry said.Curry also has amended the bill so it would require that the state Department of Natural Resources hire an ombudsman who could inform surface owners about their rights, the limits to their rights, and how they can recover damages related to drilling.”Although it may not solve problems it should improve communications at least,” she said.She added the ombudsman provision at the suggestion of state Rep. Josh Penry, a Grand Junction Republican who sits on the committee that will vote on the bill Monday. Curry said she sympathizes with the industry’s concern that testimony was taken on an earlier version of her bill, and now a significantly different one is scheduled for a vote on Monday. She said she may consider opening the bill up for more testimony.”That might be the right thing to do here,” she said.She thinks the bill has about a 50-50 chance of passing.”I can’t speak to whether it’s going to be successful but it would be really great for the state if we can get it passed,” she said. “The bill’s a good one but it’s pretty far-reaching. I like it. I just don’t know how practical it is politically.”We’re trying to swing the pendulum more towards the middle without swinging it past the middle.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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