Letters to the Editor

Land's owners are its true stewards

Dear Editor,

The Paramount Theater has been declared a historic landmark by the city of Denver. So what could be a better venue to initiate a public rulemaking hearing of historic proportions? Over the past weeks, hundreds of people — representing landowners, energy companies and environmentalists — have sat for endless hours with their eyes focused on center stage, watching every move of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The sessions deal with a proposed set of rules that have been drafted by the COGCC staff, with much help from the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The rules speak to oil and gas drilling regulations that stem from legislation that was passed last year as House Bills 1341 and 1298.

Since day one, these draft rules have been a concern to the members of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. The CCA’s main concerns are that the rules interfere with landowners’ use of their own private property and that the information they must convey would not be kept confidential.

The CCA — along with eight other Colorado agricultural organizations — therefore compiled opening statements, witnesses and written testimony that was heard this past week by the COGCC. In its opening statement, this agricultural coalition (Colorado Agriculture) urged the commission to revise the rules to protect private property rights, to protect landowners from disclosure of sensitive information and to preserve the ability of landowners to manage their own lands.

With less than an hour to testify against rules that will potentially have detrimental implications to the original conservationists of Colorado, the landowners utilized every last minute to plead their case against the proposed draft rules.

Rancher Carlyle Currier stated that the first gas well was drilled on his ranch in 1958 and, since that time, more wells have been drilled. The wildlife on his ranch, he noted, has remained.

“Wildlife preservation and protection is important to landowners who receive income through hunting leases. Avid hunters are aware that the biggest concentration of wildlife occurs on private lands rather than the public lands cared for by the CDOW. Therefore, it appears that we, as private landowners, have been doing a good job of caring for the wildlife on our lands even when energy exploration is present,” stated Currier.

Speaking to the confidentiality concerns, rancher Warren McDonald testified that the proposed rules fail to protect landowners.

“Any information collected through these rules must be considered proprietary, confidential, not subject to further regulations and not subject to public disclosure. Further, information should not go beyond the regulatory agency, in this case the COGCC,” McDonald said.

For the past three years, McDonald’s ranch has participated in an elk population study with the CDOW and Pioneer Natural Resources. The study looks at how elk react to coal bed methane drilling.

“My ranch, as most ranches are, is managed for high quality grass production to feed my cattle. Without surprise, the elk also appreciate this grass production and spend a considerable amount of time on my ranch. Therefore, this elk population study has proven what I already knew, the coal bed methane drilling has not caused elk to leave my ranch,” commented McDonald.

Testimony from Currier and McDonald goes a long way to prove that there can be a balance between oil and gas drilling and wildlife conservation and that, for years, landowners have been able to harvest their mineral resources while at the same time maintaining viable habitats for wildlife.

The proposed draft rules also would allow drilling only during specified months of the year. At present, there are no seasonal drilling limitations, and there is no scientific evidence that year-round drilling affects wildlife movement. Right now, landowners can negotiate directly with oil and gas companies to assure that drilling on their private lands does not interfere with activities such as grazing (for both wildlife and livestock) or planting and harvesting of crops.

During their verbal testimony, Colorado Agriculture asked the commission to clarify whether the proposed timing limitations will pre-empt landowner consent. It was stated that, as the rules currently stand, timing limitations would, in fact, pre-empt landowner consent. If a landowner disagrees with any of the COGCC rules, the only way to protect his or her rights is to ask for a consultation. The consultation process will hear both sides of the argument and will look much like the rule-making process going on today. But landowners can’t afford to spend time and money on such a lengthy consultation process.

Today, there is no concrete, scientific or historical evidence to prove that the relationship between a landowner’s property activities and wildlife habitat is detrimental. The COGCC’s proposed rules, however, without science-based decisions, have the ability to pre-empt a landowner’s rights and will ultimately disrupt a good history of landowners being able to make holistic decisions that are best for his or her land, livestock, wildlife and business.

Landowners are true stewards of the land. They preserve their resources and work to protect what is theirs. Like an urban citizen wanting to protect his or her lawn, landowners would rather that people — whether they are friends, state agencies or government officials — use the sidewalk unless they ask for permission to traipse across the lawn.

Colorado Cattlemen’s Association