The other side of the story

  Dear HCN,

I was disappointed to read your newspaper's article of Sept. 25 titled "Backyard Boom" by Rebecca Clarren and the associated sidebar article titled "The playing field has to be leveled." What concerns me the most is that there does not appear to have been an attempt to verify sources or obtain the other side of the story. I trust you would agree that a responsible newspaper would investigate and consider all sides of a story before publishing it. Your readers should also be aware of the following facts:

Mr. Micale bought his ranch property 20 years ago. He bought the property without the mineral rights and subject to existing material leases and eight existing gas wells. Mr. Micale was given the opportunity to purchase most of those gas wells on his property in 1997, but he turned down this opportunity. Our company acquired the wells and leases in June 1998.

Strachan Exploration, Inc., spent the next 16 months in 1998 and 1999 discussing new mineral development with Mr. Micale. The well site mentioned in your article was moved there at the last minute at Mr. Micale's request from another location that Mr. Micale had previously agreed with in August 1998. The fact is our company spent 16 months reviewing and visiting potential sites to be drilled, proposing surface damage agreements and accommodating him up to the last minute.

His claim that we treated him "like a piece of garbage" is not true. To claim we drilled our well "without consulting him" is an absolute fabrication. We are, as owners of the mineral estate, obligated to engage with and negotiate with the surface owners regarding our operations. If negotiations fail or stall, we may bond for surface damages with the State of Colorado. This is, in fact, what we ended up doing.

Mr. Micale filed his development plans with no provisions or accommodations for future mineral development. The Mesa County Planning Department never contacted us as required by Colorado Revised Statutes 30-28-133(10), nor has Mesa County Land Conservancy ever contacted us.

This lack of communication from the surface planning side is moot at this point, as Mr. Micale's housing development will not expand past the first phase of 50 home sites. But several questions beg for an answer: If this land meant so much to Mr. Micale's family, why did he plat 300 homes on his ranch? If he only had enough water rights to provide 150 single-family homes (Mesa County District Court Case #92CW271), how could Mesa County approve 300 homes? Why didn't Mr. Micale create the conservation easement while he was ranching rather than while he was subdividing? Perhaps his record of selling only one lot in three years influenced his decision to obtain $14 million in tax breaks through a conservation easement rather than attempting to profit from selling more home sites.

We have done more than our fair share of negotiating with Mr. Micale over gas well drilling and surface accommodation. Negotiations, however, are a two-way street. Mr. Micale refused to negotiate in a timely manner on our first well in accordance to the rules and regulations that govern mineral development in Colorado. That well is behind us now. Since then we have completed four surface agreements with Mr. Micale covering four proposed wells.

We will continue to negotiate with Mr. Micale as it is our responsibility to protect the mineral estate as much as it is Mr. Micale's responsibility to protect his surface estate.

Stephen M. Strachan
Englewood, Colorado

The writer is president of Strachan Exploration, Inc.

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