For those who have lived in Southwest Colorado for any length of time, it might not seem odd that property ownership does not extend to that which lies beneath the surface of that land, and that the owner of that sub-terranean estate can expect relatively unfettered access to the minerals it contains regardless of the surface owners feelings on the matter. But for those who are unfamiliar with this complicated arrangement, learning of it can be a shock, particularly when the information comes with the arrival of a drill rig.
To help avoid this off-putting occurrence, Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, is proposing legislation that would require property sellers to inform buyers that another party owns the propertys mineral rights as well as who that party is. It is a wholly reasonable requirement that would do much to ease the confusion and frustration that greets far too many property owners who discover Colorados complicated split estate reality the hard way.
As more gas plays are discovered across the state, growing numbers of current and aspiring property owners will be affected by the dual ownership of surface and mineral rights. Making that fact more readily known to property owners will facilitate dialogue between surface and mineral rights owners and can help diffuse the tension that has been known to arise when drilling plans arise. Too often, these plans have blindsided surface owners who were unaware that another party owned the minerals beneath their land, and that the mineral rights owners are legally entitled to surface access so as to harvest those resources. Much work has been done locally to extend more leverage to surface owners in negotiating drilling operations La Plata County is a leader in such rules and those conversations have informed statewide regulations drafted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and adopted by the state legislature. But there is more that can be done to keep landowners informed of what might take place on their property and Loopers bill is a good example.
Even for those aware of Colorados split estate rules, figuring out who owns the mineral rights beneath a piece of property is not always an easy undertaking. The effort requires title searches, trips to the county clerk, and often the assistance of an attorney. This byzantine system does little to foster transparency and even less to build goodwill and cooperation between surface and mineral rights owners. Loopers measure would require sellers to provide buyers with the name and contact information of the propertys mineral rights owner. Doing so would take much of the murkiness out of the severed estate scenario, and would better position property owners to negotiate any future drilling. At the very least, the disclosure would signal to buyers the potential that drilling might one day occur, which in itself is a significant shift from the status quo.
There is little reason to think that natural gas development is going to abate any time soon in Colorado or across the United States, and there are good arguments to be made for encouraging the development of the resource provided that it is done in a manner that does not negatively affect other critical resources such as air and water quality, wildlife habitat, wilderness-quality lands, and quality of life for residents living in energy-rich areas. Ensuring that protection must start with communication and Loopers disclosure measure encourages it where it is most effective: before drilling activity begins.