Curry’s bill back in the House |

Curry’s bill back in the House

Surface use legislation addressing energy development impacts will undergo a hearing in a Colorado House of Representatives committee today, and the bill’s sponsor is optimistic the panel will approve the measure.State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said Tuesday she thinks there will be enough votes in the Transportation and Energy Committee to advance House Bill 1185 to a vote by the House as a whole.That would be further than a surface use bill carried by Curry got last year. It failed in a vote in the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, which Curry chairs.House Speaker Andrew Romanoff chose to assign Curry’s new measure to a different committee this year. “I don’t think it’s a strategy issue,” Curry said in a teleconference Tuesday. She said surface use bills have been assigned to various House committees over the years.But she also voiced less confidence about what the prospects would have been had her bill been assigned to her own committee, only saying it was a “possibility” it would have passed. She said that last year, committee opponents said they couldn’t support her bill, but were unwilling to work to make changes to it.Curry’s new measure is significantly different from last year’s. Her previous bill encountered opposition over its appraisal and arbitration process, which was aimed at fairly compensating surface owners for the impacts of developing natural gas and oil by owners of mineral rights.Her new measure continues to pursue fair compensation, but by a different means.”The industry has the right to get on the ground to get the resource. That’s not in dispute here, that’s not what’s on the table,” Curry said. “They are entitled to reasonable access; the landowner is entitled to accommodations.”Currently, if energy developers don’t reach an agreement with owners of surface rights, they can post a bond and start to drill. Curry said her new measure is intended to get surface owners and energy companies to the table to negotiate a surface use agreement. If they can’t come to terms, a company could post a $25,000 bond and begin drilling, but also would have to make an offer to compensate for loss in a property’s fair market value expected to result from the energy development.Now, companies can drill after posting just a $2,000 bond in the case of nonirrigated land, or $5,000 for irrigated property, or a blanket bond of $25,000 covering all instances where agreements aren’t reached.Under Curry’s measure, if surface owners weren’t happy with the offer, they could go to court. If the court awarded them compensation 20 percent higher than what the company offered, they would have to be paid triple damages as well as attorney fees and other costs.Curry said requiring compensation for fair market value is a standard practice in matters such as acquisitions of property via eminent domain, and of easements for purposes such as utility crossings.Curry’s bill is backed by the Colorado Association of Home Builders, Colorado Association of Realtors, Colorado Corn Growers’ Association, Colorado Environmental Coalition, National Association of Industrial and Office Properties and Western Colorado Congress.Several supporters of Curry’s measure spoke during Tuesday’s teleconference, including Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt. Houpt said Curry’s bill will begin to address inequities that have allowed the energy industry to harm the property rights of surface owners, she said.Last year, about 1,500 permits to drill were issued in Garfield County, Houpt said.”This represents over a third of the permits approved throughout the entire state and a similar amount of permits is projected in Garfield County in 2006,” she said.The impacts to landowners will only grow as such drilling rates continue, she said.Energy interests have been working with several agricultural groups in hopes of introducing their own legislation. Ken Wonstolen, senior vice president for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said they haven’t found a sponsor, with Curry’s measure attracting so much attention.”Right now I think House Bill 1185 is kind of sucking all the air out of the room,” he said.Curry, who said three previous surface use bills all have failed, is hoping the fourth time is the charm. But COGA says her bill would have dire consequences. It said in a position statement, “Adoption of this bill would create the most unfriendly business climate for oil and gas development in the nation. Normal, prudent, reasonable surface use for oil and gas development would be exposed to punitive, open-ended ‘lost value’ claims by land speculators. The treble damage ‘pot of gold’ litigation incentive will make negotiation of surface use agreements much less likely.”Oil and gas development in urbanizing areas of Colorado – such as the Wattenberg Field north of Denver – would require compensation to land developers for subdivision lots that could be crammed into well sites under the ‘lost land value’ concept. This compensation could easily render hundreds of wells uneconomic to drill, depriving mineral owners of their property value, and local school districts of oil and gas property tax revenue.” Ed Orr, a Weld County rancher who also is in the real estate business, said Curry’s bill won’t slow down drilling.”The only thing it will affect is the profit margin of the corporation,” he said.COGA said in its statement that Curry understands her bill’s negative impact on mineral property value, and so it exempts state mineral lands from the compensation requirement.Curry said at least 11 states – Wyoming and Kansas among them – have laws similar to what she is proposing. She also said some energy developers already do what her bill would require and are good neighbors to surface owners.”It looks to me that the industry doesn’t speak with one voice. I have had conversations with individual firms that have been really constructive,” she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext.

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