Curry takes second stab at drilling bill
State Rep. Kathleen Curry is harnessing the support of everyone from Colorado homebuilders to conservation groups for another tussle with the gas development industry.Curry has introduced a bill for the second straight legislative session to try to give surface landowners more power in negotiations with gas companies that want to drill wells on their properties.The Democrat from Gunnison, whose district includes the Roaring Fork Valley and part of western Garfield County, failed to win approval for a similar bill last year.Curry said she is taking another crack at the issue because surface owners aren’t receiving proper compensation for damage from drilling on their property. Colorado’s rules and regulations are skewed in favor of the gas industry, she maintained.Increased gas development in places like Garfield County means the problem “is only going to continue to get worse,” Curry said. “This is really about private property rights.”
The issue has been a topic of debate among residents of mesas outside Silt, Rifle and Parachute. Ranchers and other rural landowners contend gas well drilling damages their hay pastures and pollutes water wells. They say they don’t get fair compensation because they have no leverage.Curry insisted her bill isn’t an attempt to slow gas production or drive up the retail price of natural gas. The industry mounted strong opposition to the bill last year, claiming it would drive up prices and cause lengthy delays before drilling could occur.Last year the bill failed to get out of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, of which Curry is chairwoman. This year the House leadership assigned it to the Transportation and Energy Committee instead.Curry downplayed the strategic significance of the move but acknowledged that she believes it has enough votes to advance out of the Transportation and Energy Committee this year, while a vote in the ag committee would have been too close to call.Curry has worked hard behind the scenes to enlist support even before the bill’s introduction. She said organizations that have voiced support for the bill include the Colorado Association of Home Builders, Colorado Association of Realtors, Colorado Corn Growers Association, Colorado Environmental Coalition, National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, and the Western Colorado Congress.Curry said she hopes this year’s bill will win support because it isn’t as complicated as last year’s version.
The new plan would require gas companies to engage surface-rights owners in good-faith negotiations before the state could issue a drilling permit. If negotiations failed, gas companies could drill only after presenting surface owners with a written settlement offer and posting a $25,000 bond to cover against potential damage to surface property.Surface owners would have 30 days to mull the gas company’s offer, then accept it or initiate a civic court action. If a judge awards damages at least 20 percent in excess of the company’s offer, the surface owners also receive attorney fees, costs, interest and triple damages.Curry’s bill faces its first test today in a 1:30 p.m. hearing of the Transportation and Energy Committee. Curry said there is a good chance the bill will be amended and debated further before the committee votes.
Quick readWho: State Rep. Kathleen Curry, whose district includes the Roaring Fork ValleyWhat: Introduced House Bill 1185 to give surface landowners more bargaining power in negotiations with gas development companiesKey provisions: 1. Requires gas development companies to engage in good-faith negotiations with surface-rights owners on potential damages and diminished land value before a drilling permit is issued.2. If an agreement cannot be negotiated, the gas companies can present the surface-rights owners a written offer and post a bond of $25,000 to protect against damage and lost land value.3. The surface owner has 30 days to digest the offer. If it is rejected, the surface owner can initiative a civil action for damages.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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