Give landowners equal ground to deal with drilling companies
Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, is proposing a law that would give property owners the clout they’ve been missing when it comes to dealing with companies that want to drill natural gas wells on their land. State and federal laws currently do little to protect property owners from the industrial activity that comes when companies like Williams and EnCana decide they want to drill a well on their land.The fact is many property owners don’t own the rights to the minerals underneath their land. The federal government and mining and other natural resource companies hold the mineral rights to much of the land throughout the western United States.With those mineral rights comes the right of access. Currently, a gas company can begin work within 30 days after notifying a landowner that it intends to drill on his or her land. If the landowner doesn’t agree quickly to a compensation agreement, the company can post a bond and begin grading roads, pouring concrete drilling pads and digging wastewater ponds to suit its needs.Gas industry representatives point out that more than 90 percent of landowners reach an access agreement with the companies that want to drill on their land. But one has to wonder if landowners are simply accepting the terms put forth by the companies simply to avoid being “bonded out.”At a hearing in Glenwood Springs last month, Orlyn Bell, a Silt-area resident who has had four wells drilled on his property, was clear about his experience with such negotiations: “As a landowner you get blown out of the saddle – you don’t have any negotiating power at all.”Curry’s bill would give people like Bell the negotiating power they need. If her bill becomes law, the landowner and gas company would begin as they do today – with negotiations. If an agreement isn’t reached, the Curry bill calls for an appraiser to assess the effects of drilling on the property’s value and the cost of repairing any damages. If the landowner and company can’t reach agreement with that new information, the dispute would go into arbitration. The bill sets a time limit for arbitration so that the company knows what to expect when it gets into an access dispute. Estimates are the proces would take about 60 days.The rules are currently skewed too much in favor of those who hold mineral rights. Those who live on and work the land should be able to stand on equal ground with the gas, oil and mining interests that own wealth beneath.
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