Panel endorses rule on surface use agreements
Garfield Countys Energy Advisory Board has endorsed a proposed rule that would encourage adoption of surface use agreements between energy developers and landowners.However, some members of the board said they would rather see legislation requiring such agreements. And state Rep.-elect Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said she plans to write and introduce such a bill in next years legislative session.Im trying really hard to meet the needs of the people who will be affected, Curry told the board Thursday at its meeting at the county fairgrounds in Rifle.The board recommended that county commissioners support a rule proposed by Club 20, a lobbying group for the Western Slope, and by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. It would require a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission representative to conduct an onsite inspection before approving an application to drill when a surface owner believes surface, health, environmental or other impacts arent being adequately addressed.COGCC rules currently require energy developers to make a good-faith effort to reach agreements with landowners before drilling. However, if negotiations break down, the developers can post a bond and go ahead with drilling.Under the proposed rule, if the energy developer objects to any conditions of approval that COGCC staff attach to the application to drill, the matter would be subject to a COGCC hearing.Dave Cesark, an EAB member and environmental specialist with Williams Production, a leading natural gas producer in the county, said the advantage of the rule versus a legislative remedy is speed.Its something that can be put into place very quickly, he said.The whole idea is just to try to bring the parties together and talk about some of the issues that have been creating problems, Cesark said.Location of well pads and roads is one of those issues, he said.Duke Cox, an EAB member and president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, questioned the timing of the rule proposal. He said the industry seems to be suddenly interested in working on the issue after the Democrats have taken majority control of the state legislature. Cox said the rule proposal seems aimed more at staving off a legislative solution.He added that many people dont trust the COGCC to look out for residents interests as well as the industrys.What were looking for here is not more words, not more paper, we want to see results, he said.Peggy Utesch, an EAB member and also part of the GVCA, worried that the rule could be rescinded just as quickly as it could be adopted. A legislative approach would be more permanent, she said.Curry noted that shes a Club 20 board member as well as a new lawmaker.I think the intentions were good; it was a good thought, she said of the rule proposal. Im concerned about the timing, Im concerned about the fact that a rule change isnt as permanent as a state mandate.She said one problem with the rule is it still doesnt require surface use agreements.Curry said her legislation will be assigned to the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee. She has been appointed chair of that committee.Kathryn Bedell, a citizen representative on the EAB, said that while a legislative answer may be warranted, a rule change makes sense as a quicker fix. Williams and EnCana Oil & Gas are projecting drilling about 300 wells apiece next year in Garfield County, she noted.We need some help now, she said.The rule proposal is based on one COGCC already has put in effect for La Plata County in southwestern Colorado. There, about a fifth of wells were previously drilled without surface use agreements being reached. Now, agreements are obtained in all but about 4 percent of wells drilled.Cesark believes far fewer than 20 percent of wells in Garfield County are drilled without an agreement in place. Williams reaches agreements on all the wells it drills in the county, he said.Sher Long, an EnCana representative, said that while she doesnt have exact numbers, very few of the companys wells are drilled without agreements.Our goal is to have none of those next year, she said.EAB member and Rifle-area resident Scott Brynildson said his experience with EnCana hasnt been positive.I guarantee you they will run over you, or try to. … They will drill wells without your permission.Utesch said one concern she has with the proposed surface use rule is whether COGCC has the staff to implement it.At Currys recommendation, the EAB Thursday also urged county commissioners to write the legislatures Joint Budget Committee and the COGCC and urge that more COGCC staff be assigned to Garfield County. An additional staff member is already scheduled to work in the county starting next year.County oil and gas auditor Doug Dennison said the commissioners might take up the EABs recommendations at its Dec. 13 meeting.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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