Groups pull support for surface-use bill
A bill that mandates compensation for oil and gas development impacts on land has lost the support of several citizens groups who say an amendment demanded by industry could make things worse than under current law.However, a representative of an energy organization says those groups are overreacting, and efforts are being made to resolve concerns over the change to House Bill 1185.The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, cleared the Colorado House of Representatives in a 60-3 vote last week. On Monday, some members of an original coalition of groups that had supported the bill announced their opposition to it in its revised form.”The way it’s written right now, the lawyers tell us it’s essentially useless. … Why pass a bill that doesn’t do what you want it to do?” said Duke Cox, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a Garfield County organization that seeks to protect landowners’ rights.Several environmental organizations, including the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Environment Colorado, the Sierra Club and Western Colorado Congress, have withdrawn their support for the bill.Ken Wonstolen, senior vice president and general counsel for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association trade group, said those organizations are misreading the amendment language.”A judge would never read it the way the environmental groups are reading it,” he said.At issue is language that says land should be subject to reasonable use by energy developers. Wonstolen said Curry repeatedly has said she wants to strike a balance between surface and mineral owners. The rights of the latter need to be recognized in the bill, he said. If a demand for compensation for surface impacts is great enough to prohibit the drilling of a well, that’s taking a property right, he said.Matt Sura, an organizer with the Western Colorado Congress, said that based on past legal judgments defining reasonable use, the bill would make it even harder than it is now for landowners to get any compensation.”Reasonable use is whatever the industry typically does, and as you’ve seen in Garfield County they’ve done it all. They can point to a lot of places and get away with just about anything and not have to compensate landowners,” he said.”This is no longer the bill that we started out with and certainly not a bill that is going to protect landowners.”Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, is scheduled to introduce it in the Senate.Said Cox, “There’s some language in there that just has to be addressed, and we’re hoping that Senator Isgar will address it.”Curry said in an interview last week that she expects the issue to come up when the measure undergoes committee review in the Senate.Cox said the Colorado Association of Home Builders, another original supporter of the bill, also has qualms about it now. But Wonstolen said he met with Isgar and land development interests Friday to help them understand the industry’s intentions, and discuss possible ways to clarify the bill.He called it “nonsensical” to argue that a bill specifically calling for compensation for surface disturbances at the same time eliminates that requirement for reasonable use by energy companies.Isgar and a Colorado Association of Home Builders representative could not be reached for comment Monday.
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