Landowners always lose with drilling | AspenTimes.com

Landowners always lose with drilling

Rosemary Bilchak

As a former rancher from south of Silt, I would like to relate to you my personal experience in dealing with drilling. Even though most mineral rights have been severed from the surface rights in Colorado, in this case, we were in possession of the mineral rights as well as being the surface owners and occupants.We purchased our ranch in 1995, knowing that the existing mineral lease would expire in 1998. We assumed we were safe when that deadline passed.However, in 2003, we received notice that the company wanted to drill several wells on our ranch. When we protested that the lease had expired, we were informed that our ranch had been “unitized” – a federal designation that pools tracts of land into a “unit” for the convenience of the drilling company. Unitization changes two aspects of the lease: Any well spacings that have been previously negotiated are negated (the density of the wells is now controlled by the BLM); and, the lease becomes, essentially, a lease in perpetuity.Don’t be fooled into thinking that owning the mineral rights will protect landowners.Faced with the inevitable, our only option was to attempt to negotiate a surface use agreement with the drillers that would move the well locations out of our best producing hay field, direct traffic to an area that would have the least impact on us and our livestock, and address accident prevention and mitigation. This last fear was driven by the calamities we had seen our neighbors endure.Over our kitchen table, we were handed outright lies, specifically regarding the monitoring equipment we were requesting for our own safety. We knew the land men were lying, but dared not call them on it because we also knew that all of the cards were in their hands. If a landowner is deemed to be recalcitrant, demanding, or obstreperous, the drilling company has the legal right to post a laughable bond amount and drill on the property without a surface use agreement.As a landowner, you walk a very fine line in these mock negotiations, acutely aware of a private company’s power over your personal as well as financial life. You have to approach this power as a supplicant, not as an equal. This humiliation is exacerbated by the arrogant attitude of the drilling company agents.State Representative Kathleen Curry is sponsoring House Bill 1219, the Surface Use Compensation Act, to give surface owners more leverage in negotiating surface use agreements with the drilling companies.The gas companies have portrayed the backers of this bill as a bunch of whiners who weren’t smart enough to purchase their mineral rights. They are also going to try to convince you that this legislation is an undue burden to one of the richest industries in the world. Meanwhile, the cost to the individual is ridiculed. From personal experience, I can tell you that the impact is unimaginable. Gas drilling took away everything that we had come to the country for.Regardless of the outcome of this vote, drilling will continue. This legislation is only trying to address the egregious imbalance between the drilling company and the landowner during the surface use agreement negotiations.This legislation is scheduled for a vote today, Wednesday, March 30. Please act now. Call or e-mail your legislators to ask for their support on HB 1219: Rep. Josh Penry (R), 303-866-3068, joshua.penry.house@state.co.us or Rep. Ray Rose (R), 303-866-2955, ray.rose.house@state.co.us.Also, a thank you to Kathleen Curry for sponsoring this bill would be nice: 303-866-2945 or kathleencurry@montrose.net.Rosemary Bilchak is a former rancher who sold her ranch, with its mineral rights, because of the prospect of gas drilling. The buyers were interested in the land because of the potential of receiving drilling royalties.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.