Reasons for not supporting the proposed split-estate draft rule
Garfield County commissioners took action Dec. 13 to support a proposed draft rule for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission addressing split estates. An informal group associated with Club 20 created the proposed rule, and the Energy Advisory Board recommended the commissioners approve it. What’s more advantageous: supporting a proposed draft COGCC rule or legislation that could address surface-use agreements between landowners and the oil and gas industry? This discussion is complex, and my decision not to support the proposed rule deserves explanation. The timing of the rule is suspect since proposed legislation is already being researched and drafted. Legislation has the opportunity to greater protect surface owners but may have difficulty passing if the supporters of the rule convince legislators to give their approach a chance before passing legislation. The rule provides no new protections for surface owners; it only adds a new layer to the process. The inspection (required in the rule) only covers a narrow spectrum of the negotiable items with a surface-use agreement. If the oil and gas company and surface owner are not in agreement on certain impacts not addressed in the rule, such as economic loss, the company can stop negotiations on those issues and bypass the process of entering into a surface use agreement with the land owner and begin drilling activity through a COGCC bonding process. The hasty writing of this proposed rule is an attempt to draw support away from legislation. The COGCC and industry say they support such legislation; if this is true, then set this proposed rule aside and get behind the legislative process. Legislation won’t fail with the support of property owners, industry, local governments, Club 20 and the COGCC. The new rule creates the perfect argument against legislation: “Legislators, please give the COGCC Rule an opportunity to work before adopting legislation” or “with the newly adopted Rule the COGCC is already addressing the concerns of surface owners.” The COGCC allows the industry to drill without the surface owner’s consent if the parties cannot come to an agreement. Where is the equity in this process and where has the COGCC been in addressing the concerns that split estates create? I have not seen the proposed legislation, so I cannot comment on specifics; however, Representative-elect Kathleen Curry, a Democrat, and Representative Mark Larson, a Republican, are working on a bill that will be well balanced. The industry says they are committed to the notion of “Best Practices” and working within our county as “Good Neighbors.” I urge industry representatives to work with property owners in energy-impacted counties to create a bill that would effectively address split estates. My colleagues, John Martin and Larry McCown, often tell people that county commissioners have no ability to assist them with the impact the oil and gas industry has on their property because the COGCC has authority over most land-use issues. Here is our opportunity to be proactive and support new legislation that would protect many people and potentially allow us to retain some land-use control ability. We should only support this proposed rule if legislation does not pass during this session; otherwise, it turns into a smoke screen and will decrease the chance of Colorado adopting solid legislation.The proposed rule does not address property values, impacts to existing business, quality of life, impact on neighboring lands or future use of the property. These are issues that should be addressed and would be through our land-use regulations. The rule raises additional questions in relation to directional drilling, wildlife impact and noise considerations. We live in an energy-rich county, and we know widespread activity will continue. Now is the time to create safeguards so that when the drilling is complete something will be left for everyone. Extraction activity should not be allowed to impact long- or short-term quality of life, property values or environmental concerns. Let’s avoid a quick fix and work on legislation that will address landowners’ needs. I hope this clarifies any questions about my vote on this issue.Trési Houpt is a Garfield County commissioner. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Trési Houpt is a Garfield County commissioner. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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