CHEYENNE -- Wyoming ought to toughen up its law aimed at preventing conflicts when petroleum companies seek to drill for oil or gas on private property with or without the landowner's permission, a landowner group says.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming says the law went into effect six years ago following input from both landowners and industry, and now the Powder River Basin Resource Council wants to undo those efforts.

Surface land and any underlying minerals are legally separate in Wyoming under the concept of split estate. One result is landowners must allow an oil company to drill on their land if the company has obtained access to the mineral rights.

The split-estate law, enacted in 2005, requires oil and gas companies to at least attempt good-faith negotiations with landowners. Also the law allows landowners to sue in court to obtain compensation for damages.

The law was a good first step when it was passed, Jill Morrison, an organizer for the Sheridan-based resource council, said Tuesday.

"It's definitely seriously needed and a very important issue because of the vast amount of split estate in this state with oil and gas development," she said. "But we now know from the practice and implementation that it needs improvement."

Wyoming should improve the law with a number of changes, the resource council said in a report released Tuesday.

One suggested change is increasing the $2,000-per-well bond a company must post before drilling. That sum is "unrealistically low" to compensate landowners for damage, the group said in its "State of the Split Estate" report.

"It's ridiculously low. It's not an impediment to bonding on and it's not an incentive to negotiate," Morrison said.

The group also said the law could be improved by:

-- Allowing landowners to recover litigation costs if they went to court and prevailed;

-- Placing the burden of proof of good-faith negotiations with the petroleum company, not the landowner;

-- Not allowing companies onto private land until the landowner has received notification by certified mail that the company has posted bond;

-- Removing oversight of disputes from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The resource council came up with the recommendations after speaking with the owners of land where companies have posted bond to gain access. Morrison said the landowners were representative of such "bonded on" landowners statewide.

Tom Doll, supervisor of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, questioned that.

"This is a review of people who were disgruntled by the fact that they didn't what they wanted out of it, apparently," he said.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming also questioned the report. The $2,000 bond requirement is a "starting amount" that can be raised by the commission if a landowner proves that is necessary, association President Bruce Hinchey said.

"Instead they just want to arbitrarily increase the amount," he said.

The law was written following several years of work by legislators, industry representatives, landowners and others, Hinchey said.

He said the resource council wants to undo that work.


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