The "Backlash" article (HCN, 9/2/02: Backlash) was one of the best I have read yet concerning CBM development in the West. I have served as commissioner on the Colorado oil and Gas Conservation Commission, La Plata County Oil & Gas technical advisor and consulting environmental geologist to the gas industry and property owners (referred to as "surface owners"). So I have been all around the playing field.
The basic problem you highlight is the clash of 100-year-old mineral development law, our current national need for gas as a clean fuel, and the modern dynamic of rural residential sprawl in the West. New West immigrants' vision of God's Country does not include gas wells. Local governments are caught between the emotions of constituents, antiquated state laws, and the desire for local jobs and tax revenue from gas production. Gas producers want to make money and sometimes do not remember that everybody lives on the surface of the Earth!
In Colorado, one change in the law could make surface owners significantly more empowered in negotiations with gas producers. Currently, a producer has the ability to post a bond and drill without executing a surface-damage agreement with a severed surface owner. Although this does not happen often, it leads to a very skewed negotiation between the producer and the surface owner with the threat of bond and drill hanging over their head. The gas-producing lobby has battled mightily to prevent a change in the law that requires a surface-use agreement between the parties and levels the playing field.
Another matter to consider is the disparity between gas producers in their willingness to work with the public and mitigate impacts. The industry is not a uniform entity. Some companies do a very good job of working with the public and spending money far beyond the minimal regulatory requirements to mitigate impacts. Other companies are more like bottom feeders and can cause significant real or perceptual harm with a bull-headed and low-cost attitude. I do not know how to legislate common sense and proactive cooperation. But that is just what the CBM debate really needs on all sides of the fence.
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