Energy policy — coalbed methane: Landowners mulling filing for water rights after industry filings surface

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Here’s a call to arms of sort from the Director of the San Juan Basin Citizens Alliance, Megan Graham, via The Durango Herald. She is recommending that landowners get educated quickly about filing for water rights under their land now that the oil and gas operators in the area are filing for decrees as a result of the new rules for coalbed methane produced water from the State Engineer. From the article:

The map defining the two, issued by the state engineer’s office, has raised some questions in that it was based heavily on input from industry. But what has gotten even more attention is a blizzard of water-rights filings by industry on the water in question: rights that would trump those of the overlying surface owners who had not previously sought their own adjudicated water right. The nuances of this scenario are many, and landowners on whose property these rights have been filed understandably are full of questions about what the filings mean for their water and land.

There are larger questions, too, about what the industry is up to. Seeking legal, and arguably unnecessary, claim to thousands of acre-feet of water – albeit often brackish and of questionable use – without permission of the overlying landowner is hardly neighborly, and raises eyebrows at the very least. It also raises a number of legal issues that will be keeping water attorneys busy for the next several months, at a minimum. And that leaves aside, for the moment, the question of augmentation plans for the water deemed to be tributary.

In the meantime, though, landowners who received notice of a water-rights filing – tributary or nontributary – would be wise to educate themselves about what is at stake in their particular circumstance. Those with an adjudicated right or a ditch right, for example, might take a different course of action than someone who has no property rights to the water in question.

There are a number of options on how to proceed, and determining the best one requires diligence and access to knowledgeable resources. Fortunately, there are many of these available to help sort through this inherently murky situation.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

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