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Know the West

Landowners could get gas relief


For years, landowners in Colorado have complained that the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, charged with regulating methane gas development, is biased towards industry (HCN, 9/25/00: Colliding forces: Has Colorado's oil and gas industry met its match?). Now, four bills currently in the state Legislature promise to give landowners more rights.

Greg Walcher, the head of the state's Department of Natural Resources, has drafted three bills that he says "level the playing field." One bill would require oil and gas operators to negotiate an agreement with landowners, ensuring compensation for any damages inflicted on the land during the drilling process. Another bill would allow landowners to gain mineral rights, if they haven't been developed for 20 consecutive years. The third would obligate title insurance agents to report if land for sale includes the minerals under the ground.

Some state policy makers say this legislation represents a significant change of heart for Walcher, who has historically been an advocate for extractive industry.

"The last time anything this dramatic happened was on the road to Damascus when the lightning hit St. Paul," says Sen. Jim Dyer, D-Durango, who is sponsoring Walcher's legislation.

But citizens' groups, which have been pushing for industry reform for over a decade, say this legislation doesn't get anywhere near the heart of the problem.

"(Walcher's legislation) does nothing to address longstanding disinterest by the Oil and Gas Commission to address problems brought to them by surface owners," says Travis Stills of the Citizens Oil & Gas Support Center. These bills don't account for wildlife or compensate adjacent property owners who may experience noise or water pollution from wayward gas wells, adds Stills.

His group and other citizen groups across the state have drafted a "conflict of interest" bill that would prevent anyone employed by oil and gas companies from serving on the commission that regulates the industry.