Surface use issue may go to voters
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. On Tuesday, the Post Independent looked at legislative efforts to address the impact of oil and gas development on landowners. To read Tuesday’s story, go to http://www.postindependent.com.Whatever the outcome of legislative efforts on surface use legislation this spring, the matter could go before Colorado voters in the fall.A Garfield County group is continuing to organize in hopes of putting an initiative on the ballot. In addition, a state lawmaker said he stands ready to ask the legislature to put the issue before voters if surface use legislation fails.State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, plans to introduce a modified surface use bill this year, following the defeat of her bill in a House committee last year. The oil and gas industry and several agricultural groups also are holding talks in hopes of coming up with their own bill. Ken Wonstolen, of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said he would prefer that the matter be dealt with legislatively than via the ballot box.John Gorman, a Glenwood Springs real estate agent who sits on the Initiative for Surface Owners’ Rights committee, said state lawmakers aren’t likely to be able to solve the problem themselves.”We have never been convinced that the legislature has the ability to pass the kind of good legislation that will be signed by our pro-business governor,” Gorman said.Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, formerly worked as an oil and gas industry lobbyist.State Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, said Democrats “may very well” seek to place a referendum on the ballot.”It’s a big issue, and unfortunately we haven’t been able to get much of a compromise going here at the legislature,” he said.Democrats hold majority control of both the House and Senate. Pommer is chairman of the House Transportation and Energy Committee.One advantage of a referendum is that it wouldn’t require Owens’ signature to go on the ballot, Pommer said.But it would take approval by two-thirds of both the House and Senate.”Getting that through the legislature would be tough, too. But it’s another avenue,” Pommer said.Some lawmakers might feel more comfortable letting voters decide than passing a bill themselves, Pommer said.He said he’d rather see a bill passed to address the problem. That way, lawmakers can talk to everyone and hear their concerns, he said.”Once you move to a referendum, suddenly the language is locked and it becomes a battle of 30-second commercials, and that’s an unfortunate way to do things.”Gorman’s group and Pommer haven’t compared notes about the initiative versus the possible referendum.”I think we’re probably on roughly the same page about it,” Pommer said.Gorman said he would welcome it if Pommer was willing to put his committee’s measure on the ballot.”If that happens that would make my job a whole lot easier,” he said.But Gorman said a referendum would have to have pretty much the exact language the group is planning. Otherwise, it would continue to go the initiative route.He said the group, composed mostly of people living from Glenwood Springs to Silt, has drafted simple language that would change the state Constitution to compensate surface owners for damage caused by oil and gas development. He expects it would lead to court cases as parties sort out the implications of the initiative.Other surface use legislation has focused on reaching fair surface use agreements between the industry and property owners where development is occurring. But the initiative also would allow other affected surface owners to seek compensation, such as owners of property where trucks crash and spill condensates, Gorman said.Gorman operated a natural gas compressor in the 1970s. More recently, he has sold homes to people who later have been impacted by drilling. He said the initiative committee recognizes the need for oil and gas development, but just wants it to be done responsibly.Its measure shouldn’t affect energy costs, he said. Instead, it should just mean energy companies have to wait another week or 10 days to begin making a profit, after the year or so it typically takes to recover the $1 million or more in costs to drill a well, Gorman said. Local wells can go on producing for decades, and generate revenues of $10 million or more.”So we’re talking about a pretty minuscule thing,” Gorman said.Gorman said that come springtime, his group will need to begin seeking signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. While not sure of the exact amount, he said he believes a minimum of about 63,000 signatures are needed. The cost of gathering them could be around $1 million, depending on what network of signature gatherers the committee employs and how many of them turn out to be volunteers, he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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