Monday, February 11, 2008

Basic Rights: Give Surface Owners a Chance

Ever since the specter of oil and gas exploration and production arrived in Santa Fe, I have been bothered by one simple fact: this never needed to happen.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that oil and gas exploration and production cannot commence without the consent of a mineral rights owner.  Without the mineral rights owner's signature on a lease of his or her rights to a producer, the status quo is preserved, and our community remains intact.

So, how could the current situation -- the threat of thousands of new wells stretching from Soccorro to Nambe -- have be prevented?  It could have been prevented in large measure by a state law giving surface owners the right to purchase mineral rights from the mineral rights owner before the mineral rights owner leases them to a production company.  

If elected, I will introduce this as the first bill during my service in the New Mexico Legislature

With such a law in place, imagine how the situation in Santa Fe County might have played out.  Hundreds of surface owners would have received notice that the minerals beneath them were up for lease to exploration and production companies.  The surface owners would have been given the opportunity to purchase the minerals beneath them at fair market value, and many would have done so.  With their newly acquired mineral rights, many surface owners would refuse to grant leases to operators, thus making the operators' job vastly more difficult, if not impossible.

This law could apply with equal force to mineral rights owned by both the state and by individuals.  There would be no "takings" problem with the law because the mineral rights owners would receive fair market value for their mineral rights should they choose the sell.  Most importantly however, this law would finally put the surface owner on a level playing field with the mineral rights owner.  This would justify the law's passage all by itself.

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