Colorado senators rally round fracking-awareness home-buyer protection bill

DENVER — The Colorado Senate on Friday unanimously passed a bill that would include a warning in home-purchase contracts notifying buyers whether gas drillers might have access to the property.

Over the last half-decade, Coloradans have seen wells pop-up in their backyards overnight and their neighborhood streets crowded with industrial traffic as drillers take advantage of new-style hydraulic fracturing technology to blast methane from underground rock formations in gas patches across the state. The stunned home owners are the victims of “split estate” laws, where surface land owners have no claim to the mineral rights under their property. Oil companies and speculators have become expert at snagging those mineral rights.

Anti-fracking activists have united around protecting surface owners in the past few years, drawing Coloradans on the left and the right to their ranks. Even if there is disagreement about the level to which oil-and-gas operations can extend in the state, the strong support for the consumer protection bill demonstrates there is consensus about the right of buyers to know what they’re getting.
“All the bill says is: ‘It could be that you are part of the split estate. Here’s where you would find out more,'” said Senator Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, one of the sponsors of the bill. “During the oil and gas commission hearings on setbacks, we heard a whole lot of people saying ‘Woah, woah, I had no idea [about the split estate].’ So [co-sponsor Representative] Dominick Moreno and I ran a bill that said real-estate contracts need to notify you that this is a possibility.”

The bill would act like federal disclosure rules that, for example, warn renters and buyers that paint in their building might contain lead. The split estate bill does not require real estate agents to find the mineral titles, only to make the buyer aware that the issue — which runs contrary to many conceptions of land ownership — may affect them.

“This is a big issue in my district, people really don’t know,” said Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, during the final reading on the chamber floor. Grantham is a conservative who co-sponsored an oil and gas bill in 2012 that would have stripped local communities of the ability to regulate oil and gas development and given all power to state regulators.

“Doesn’t this already exist?” Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, asked.

The bill has cleared the Senate and now will move to the House for consideration.

“As oil and gas development comes closer and closer to residential areas it seems only fair that people be educated,” said Hodge. “Knowledge is power, but it needs to be knowledge, not rumor or innuendo.”

[Reporting by Tessa Cheek. Photo via mirsasha. ]


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