Landowner veto of wildlife rules could be changed
DENVER, Colorado ” Two Western Slope lawmakers are trying to negotiate a change to Colorado’s new oil and gas regulations that could reopen the debate over drilling on “split estate” properties.
A law that overhauls the way the state regulates energy development requires that a surface owner consent to any wildlife protections on the property recommended by state officials. That requirement was incorporated into new drilling regulations that the legislature must approve before they can take effect this spring.
Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, thinks it’s possible that some surface owners could use their power to reject wildlife restrictions as a backdoor way to shut down drilling on their property. He said that would unfairly deprive the property rights of people who own the rights to the minerals beneath the surface.
Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, also thinks that permits could be blocked by surface owners under the new rules. But she said she wants to give surface owners a say in what happens on their land while also protecting wildlife. Curry sees both surface owners and mineral rights owners as equals, while Isgar takes the more traditional view that mineral rights trump surface rights.
“We’ve got an entanglement that we need to work out,” Curry said.
Both said they’re talking with agricultural groups that represent rural landowners as well as environmentalists to see if they can agree on some changes.
Dave Neslin, acting director of the state’s oil and gas commission, said the rules already allow some leeway if a surface owner rejects all protections and alternatives proposed by the state. In those cases, Neslin said the state can require the oil and gas operator to preserve wildlife habitat somewhere else or give the state money instead of performing the mitigation themselves on the property.
He said the commission will be watching to see if the consent power is misused and will ask lawmakers for changes if that turns out to be a problem.