Wyoming landowners seek seat at table with energy industry

2014-02-26T20:00:00Z 2014-02-26T20:41:20Z Wyoming landowners seek seat at table with energy industryBy KYLE ROERINK Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

Alex Bowler trains hunting dogs and fires rifles on his 35 acres of property east of Cheyenne.

An oil and gas company applied for a 1,288-acre unit that includes his lot.

He’s not sure if the company will choose to drill on his property.

If it does, he has demands. Bowler’s problem, though, is that the company isn’t obliged to accept them.

“I am the low man on the totem pole,” he said.

A bill touted as a way to bring the energy industry and landowners to the bargaining table cleared its first vote in the House on Wednesday. It may be the solution Bowler is looking for.

Senate File 83 would hike the bonding requirement on energy producers from $2,000 to $10,000 on split-estate leases, land agreements under which one party owns the surface area and another owns the mineral rights.

The bill passed the Senate last week and is now three votes away from landing on Gov. Matt Mead’s desk.

Bonds provide landowners some guarantee that if a company goes bankrupt or leaves without reclaiming land there will be money to help them restore their property to what it was before the energy company arrived.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, said $2,000 is too small a sum. It doesn’t provide oil and gas companies enough incentive to hash out deals with landowners, he said.

“The best thing for Wyoming is the ability for people to sit down and work things out,” he said.

If energy companies want to drill on private land, they must apply for a permit with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. If the commission approves the permit, companies must pay a bond before drilling commences.

Companies and landowners usually tailor agreements for each specific operation on private property. But that’s not always the case.

Companies can begin operations as long as they have received the oil and gas commission’s approval and paid the $2,000 bond. They must notify the landowner a minimum of 30 days after commission approval before beginning to drill.

Laramie County residents are seeing an influx of drilling developments. Bowler is president of the Cheyenne Area Landowners Coalition, a group of 54 locals who are feeling the effects.

He has a laundry list of concerns about the potential drilling of his backyard. He said the extra $8,000 may make negotiations with the energy company more interesting.

The minimum distance a well pad can be from a home is 350 feet. He wants the drill pad to be at least 900 feet away from his home.

“Can you image a well pad, methane gas, traffic and noise that close to your house,” he said.

He doesn’t want the company using his private road. He also wants the company to build a fence so his dogs don’t wander into the drilling pad.

Landowners can appeal to the commission to keep the company off their land. If the commission rules in favor of the company, the landowner can appeal in a Wyoming district court.

For landowners, the legal fees can stack up pretty quickly, said Bill Bensel, a lobbyist for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Sheridan-based advocacy group for landowners.

Raising the bond amount is the fair thing to do, he said.

“The scale of drilling throughout the state is up,” he said. “The money companies are making is up. The bond should be up.”

Anderson, the sponsor of the legislation, received a swarm of concerns from his constituents in Carbon County.

A hotbed of drilling activity exploded in his district in the past year. A study showed that traffic on one road jumped from eight vehicles per day to 800 during the course of a year. He said 5,000 more wells are expected in Converse County in 2014.

He sponsored the bill in hopes of saving his constituents the trouble of hiring a lawyer.

“I don’t think a $10,000 bond is an unreasonable request in order to bring people to the table and avoid litigation, cost of attorneys and time taken away from the ranch,” he said.

In 2013, there were 3,456 split-land leases in Wyoming. Of those, 13 cases led to landowners looking to stake claim to the company’s bond.

Only one of the 13 landowners objected to the bond amount, said Bridget Hill, director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, the arm of the state that works with the oil and gas commission.

All the blame shouldn’t be thrust on the energy industry, said Bruce Hinchey, a lobbyist for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

He said some landowners are obstinate, creating unreasonable demands and refusing practical solutions.

“There are bad actors on both sides,” he said. “It’s not just an oil and gas operator.”

The bill passed by an 8-1 vote, but lawmakers are likely to try to amend it on the floor.

Rep. Michael Greear, R-Worland, voted for the bill, but not before expressing discontent. Companies that don't reclaim land or repair damage to private landowners are liable. Landowners can take them to court, he said.

“I suppose I am going to pass this along because it makes everyone feel good,” Greear said. “Sometimes that’s my job as a policymaker, but I don’t think this bill solves the problem.”

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No Comments Posted.

Untitled Document

Civil Dialogue

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Name-calling, crude language and personal abuse are not welcome. Moderators will monitor comments with an eye toward maintaining a high level of civility in this forum. Our comment policy explains the rules of the road for registered commenters.

If your comment was not approved, perhaps...

  1. You called someone an idiot, a racist, a dope, a moron, etc. Please, no name-calling or profanity (or veiled profanity -- #$%^&*).

  2. You rambled, failed to stay on topic or exhibited troll-like behavior intended to hijack the discussion at hand.

  3. YOU SHOUTED YOUR COMMENT IN ALL CAPS. This is hard to read and annoys readers.

  4. You have issues with a business. Have a bad meal? Feel you were overcharged at the store? New car is a lemon? Contact the business directly with your customer service concerns.

  5. You believe the newspaper's coverage is unfair. It would be better to write the editor at editors@trib.com, or call Editor Jason Adrians at 266-0545 or Content Director David Mayberry at 266-0633. This is a forum for community discussion, not for media criticism. We'd rather address your concerns directly.

  6. You included an e-mail address or phone number, pretended to be someone you aren't or offered a comment that makes no sense.

  7. You accused someone of a crime or assigned guilt or punishment to someone suspected of a crime.

  8. Your comment is in really poor taste.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Featured Businesses

Latest Offers

Wyoming High School Rodeo Finals

June 10 - June 13