Rifle discusses money for land reclamation | PostIndependent.com

Rifle discusses money for land reclamation

RIFLE – Will there be enough money to reclaim the land used by oil and gas companies after they’re gone or will the taxpayers be stuck with the bill?That’s the question which prompted the Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance to sponsor a presentation Wednesday night addressing what sort of financial assurance communities should look for from energy developers and how much.A study of reclamation activities in the four western states of Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and Colorado was done by Kuiper & Associates of Butte, Montana, which provides consulting services for Western Organization of Resource Councils.Jim Kuiper, a 25-year professional engineer in the mining and environmental fields, explained at a Rifle City Council workshop how reclamation works and what should be done on the local level to ensure energy companies put up enough money to see that its done properly.”The basic concept is that companies or corporations affecting public or private lands, must provide funding to ensure mitigation or remediation of any adverse impacts from those activities,” Kuiper said.Current state and federal requirements for reclamation plans are “grossly inadequate and fail to result in productive post-development reclamation of damaged sites,” the study reports.Financial assurance, also called “bonding,” by developers only works when there is enough money to cover the reclamation costs. Many companies use a “blanket bond” approach – which is a one-time amount put up to cover reclamation costs.”In all cases examined in this report, the blanket bond approach currently in use is grossly inadequate and fails to provide sufficient funds for reclamation to be performed by the responsible agencies in the event an operator defaults on its obligation,” the study reports.The result can mean millions of dollars to taxpayers.”The goal is to encourage companies to do the right thing – to do a good job of reclamation,” Kuiper said.An example in the report in Garfield County was the EnCana Oil and Gas natural gas drilling project at Grass Mesa.The project areas covers nearly 10,000 acres, with nearly 60 percent owned by private landowners. The total disturbance area is estimated at about 150 acres.According to the study, EnCana supplied financial assurance in the amount of a $300,000 federal blanket bond and a $235,000 blanket bond to the state of Colorado for the Grass Mesa project. “Based on an estimated reclamation financial assurance amount of $996,000, the potential liability represented by the financial assurance shortfall is approximately $461,000 for this project,” the report states.Kuiper suggested that cities and counties become involved in ensuring the energy companies set aside enough money to reclaim the areas they disturb.”Every company, every well, every disturbance – has to provide enough money for reclamation,” Kuiper said. “We want to make sure the induistry always has enough money to reclaim everying.”He also recommended that communities get on the bandwagon now instead of waiting around until the disasters happen and that the public get involved as well.”We’re dealing with a very powerful industry – very powerful,” Kuiper said. “But don’t let that intimidate you.”Peggy Utesch, secretary/treasurer for the GVCA, said the presentation was meant to educate the public and make people start thinking ahead.”We’re trying to get people to think down the road,” she said. “In 20 years, when these (oil and gas companies) leave, what kind of mess are we going to be left with? Are they going to leave the bill to the taxpayers?”The GVCA is currently working on a community development plan for oil and gas development in the New Castle, Silt and Rifle areas.For more information, contact Utesch at 984-3108.

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