House OK plan to make oil, gas drillers work with surface owners
DENVER – The House gave final approval Wednesday to a measure that would require energy companies to minimize the impact of drilling on surface owners, despite objections that said a provision allowing trespass lawsuits against the companies was too strict.Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, said the owners of mineral rights below the ground have as much right to use their property as surface owners.”I know it (the oil and gas industry) seems to be everybody’s whipping boy these days. We ought to be glad we have a vibrant industry here,” he told the House.Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said lawmakers took steps to protect both sides.The bill (House Bill 1252) passed on a vote of 52-12. It now goes to the Senate.The divided ownership of mineral and surface rights, called split estate, often results in disputes.Lawmakers said they believe they have a better chance of passing a bill regulating the relationship between the two sides this year because they didn’t try to lay out rules for compensation as they have in previous years, when the legislation failed.Companies that own or lease minerals have the legal right to “reasonable use” of the surface to extract the minerals. State and federal officials urge companies to negotiate agreements with the surface owners, but companies can post a bond and begin drilling if negotiations fail.Landowners complain that gives companies all the leverage. They say the bonds are too low to do any good.The bill requires oil and gas operators to minimize damage using the best technology available. If they don’t, the surface owner can sue for trespass.If the bill passes, it would take effect Sept. 1.Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said she’s afraid disputes will escalate into violence.Liston said Colorado is sending a signal that oil and gas drillers can go to Wyoming if Colorado makes it too difficult for them to operate.Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, disagreed, saying oil and gas drillers will stay because Colorado has the resources.”The signal we are sending is, ‘Please work with the surface owners,”‘ she said.
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