Thursday, February 18, 2010

Senate Measure Extends Permit Date For Drillers

Water, water, water.

Archuleta case forced new rule for well operators
by Joe Hanel
Herald Denver Bureau
Article Last Updated; Thursday, February 18, 2010 12:00AM


DENVER - Gas and oil companies would get a deadline extension to file for water permits for their wells under a bill that started moving Wednesday in the state Legislature.
But ranchers who own water rights are worried the bill could undo a landmark case that started in Archuleta County and forced gas wells to get water permits.

Senate Bill 165 passed the Senate Agriculture Committee 6-0 on Wednesday. Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, voted yes.

The court case pitted Archuleta County's Vance and Fitzgerald families against the state engineer and gas companies. Ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court said gas companies need to get water permits for their wells.

In Colorado, filing for a well permit is not the same as filing for a water right. Only courts can grant water rights to surface water. The state engineer grants well permits, which are good for ground water under a person's land and are not supposed to have an effect on other water users.

The Legislature in 2009 reacted to the Vance ruling by telling the state engineer to figure out which gas wells interact with surface water and need additional regulation. The engineer's office published maps this winter that exclude much of the San Juan Basin's gas fields from additional scrutiny.

The Legislature also gave gas companies until March 31 to file a substitute water-supply plan. Companies in Southwest Colorado are collaborating on a single water-supply plan for the whole basin.

SB 165 extends the March deadline until August, because the state engineer's office was facing a flood of paperwork.

The Vance plaintiffs and their allies oppose SB 165.

“It's about fundamental fairness. You don't just chuck that under the bus because you've got a deadline to meet," said Alan Curtis, lawyer for the Vance and Fitzgerald families and other water-rights owners.

The bill also exempts some gas and oil wells from Colorado's water-rights system, and that has the owners of water rights worried. Gas wells often bring up water from deep underground, and companies use that water to mix cement, suppress dust on roads or mix drilling fluids. The intent is to encourage water recycling and reduce the need to truck in water from surface streams, said Jim Martin, director of the Department of Natural Resources. More>>>