Rancher-oil water dispute prompts Colorado bill
DENVER – Lawmakers are moving to strengthen the state’s hand in water lawsuits with a bill prompted by a dispute between southwest Colorado ranchers and gas and oil drillers.
A House committee voted 13-0 Monday in favor of a bill that raises the legal standard for the ranchers suing the state engineer over allowing certain oil wells to be drilled without water permits.
The House bill says courts must presume that the state engineer’s determination about whether wells would deplete surface water is valid, unless a farmer or rancher can prove otherwise in court.
The bill now heads to the full House.
The Durango Herald reported Tuesday that the bill is another response to a 2009 state Supreme Court decision in which the ranchers prevailed in a lawsuit against the engineer’s office for not protecting their water rights from gas wells.
Last year, lawmakers gave the engineer power to draw maps that show where gas wells interact with surface water. Gas wells outside the zone do not need to replace the water they use because the water is assumed to be so deep underground that it will have no effect on surface streams.
But ranchers sued over that law, too, joined by the Oil and Gas Accountability Project and the city of Sterling. The proposal moving through this year’s Legislature seeks to strengthen the state’s legal hand through the current lawsuits.
“What we’re asking is an affirmation of that to remove all doubt” of the state engineer’s authority to show where permits are required, said Mike King, director of the Department of Natural Resources.
“This is critical that we resolve this issue and that it doesn’t get litigated and then appealed to the Supreme Court, and we have a two-year window of uncertainty that would not be good for oil and gas production in Colorado,” King said.
House Bill 1286: http://goo.gl/jmPdA
Information from: Durango Herald, http://www.durangoherald.com
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