Doomsayers wrong on gas bill
New state Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, has brought the wrath of the natural gas industry down upon herself with her legislation to mandate surface-use agreements related to drilling.To hear the industry tell it, Curry’s measure could spell the end of the gas development boom in Colorado.Most surface owners neither believe that, nor want the boom to end. They simply want to ensure that the law treats owners of surface rights and mineral rights equally.The energy industry is producing an important resource for the nation. In Garfield County, gas development has become an important part of the economy.But for some who live in drilling country, all of this is coming at a high personal cost. Dealing with lights, dust, noise and traffic is only the beginning. Some face the specter of losing land for drilling pads, and even suffering harm to their well water.Yet owners of surface rights are at a disadvantage when they try to negotiate surface use agreements with energy companies to address the impacts they face. Often they are novices at this process, going up against businesses that negotiate such agreements day in and day out and have legions of lawyers to advise them.Worst of all, surface owners face the continuing threat that if they can’t reach an agreement with gas developers, the companies can simply post a bond and drill anyway.Curry’s bill would require hiring an appraiser if an agreement can’t be reached, and entering arbitration if necessary.Gas developers say the resulting months of delays would force them to go elsewhere. The assertion is laughable. Other industries face regulatory delays as well, and simply plan ahead for them. Also, the companies can minimize delay by negotiating in good faith so that appraisals and arbitration aren’t necessary.Developers also say Curry’s bill isn’t necessary because agreements already are reached in almost all cases. But many residents feel forced to sign an agreement, even if it’s not fully acceptable to them. Curry’s bill would ensure fairer agreements are reached by eliminating the company’s option of bonding and drilling. New state regulations addressing surface-use agreements don’t do that.Opponents say Curry’s legislation would make natural gas more expensive for consumers. But the price of treating surface use owners fairly isn’t much in comparison to the millions of dollars in gas that a single well produces in Garfield County. It’s not unfair to ask consumers to pay what probably would amount to pennies more on a gas bill so residents near wells aren’t left uncompensated for many thousands of dollars of impacts from gas production.In Garfield County alone, gas production now exceeds $1 billion a year. Energy companies aren’t going to walk away from drilling here just because of Curry’s bill. All she’s asking is for a little fairness toward homeowners from an industry that can well afford it.
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