RC&D Council releases surface use guidelines
Out of more than 380 RC&D Councils in the nation, the Southeastern Wyoming RC&D Council has been recognized by the National Association of RC&D Councils as one of the four most innovative councils in the nation.
In addition to wind energy development and water quality projects, the Southeast Wyoming RC&D Council also recently completed and released on Jan. 1 a document titled “Landowner Guidelines for Negotiating a Mineral Lease or Surface Use Agreement.” The document aims to provide information on how landowners can negotiate a fair payment and protect their resource base through surface use agreements.
“These guidelines are mainly intended for landowners, to give them fair guidance so they can work a successful and fair agreement with companies,” says Southeastern Wyoming RC&D Coordinator Grant Stumbough.
“It was my idea, but Grant did most of the work to form the Coalition to help those surface use owners in southeast Wyoming,” says Southeastern Wyoming RC&D Council Chairman Jim Rogers of Albany County, referring to the Southeastern Wyoming Mineral Development Coalition.
The Coalition, composed of producers from Platte, Goshen and Laramie counties, is similar to the Renewable Energy Association of Landowners (REAL) located in the same area, only dealing with mineral development instead of wind energy. They’re the group that developed the document, aiming to provide additional information for landowners involved in the current mineral play in southeast Wyoming.
“The first thought was that we needed to put together a group of landowners in the three-county area of Goshen, Platte and Laramie counties, and have that group of ranchers have three roles,” says Stumbough.
The first task of the 15-member Coalition is to gather and disseminate as much information as possible to educate and inform landowners about how to form and negotiate successful surface use agreements. The second is to reach consensus on some issues related to mineral development.
“We want to work with landowners and the local communities to find win-wins that will stimulate our economies and protect our resources,” says Stumbough.
The third task is to foster partnerships with oil and gas companies.
“We want to find where we can help them, and where they can help us,” notes Stumbough.
The Coalition hopes to have a meeting in February to talk about water quality and quantity with industry members.
“We want to talk about where we can help them find water – it takes two to seven million gallons of water to operate each well – and gravel,” says Stumbough. “We’ll also look at how they can ensure some level of comfort that they’ll protect our drinking water supplies. We’ll also talk with them about roads and dust control, and maybe even discuss using the gas from some of the oil wells to firm up wind energy production. We want to have a meeting to discuss all of those things and find common ground and foster a partnership.”
“So many of us have the surface but don’t have the mineral rights, so that makes it tough when people come in and minerals are the dominant estate,” says Rogers of the information included in the surface use agreement document. “What we did was to try to put something together to help the surface owners know what to ask for, and what to look for when some oil company comes onto their place and asks for a surface use agreement.”
“I sure wish that, when I first started, I’d had something like this to help me out so I’d have asked some of the right questions,” adds Rogers, who has seven pipelines and a pair of fiber optic cables running through his ranch.
Rogers says some of the most important aspects of the document are the examples of the prices that can be obtained.
Stumbough says one chapter in the document came from the Converse County Landowners Association, and it gives payment guidelines on what type of payments to ask for, and in what amounts.
“It’s a range of the going rate,” he says. “That’s really helped folks a lot, because some don’t even know what to ask for, they’re just taking whatever the oil companies give them. This gives them an idea of what to expect.”
Stumbough says many landowners are asking for annual payments to maintain the value of the ranch with an oil well, pipelines and compressor stations on it. “If you’re getting an annual payment, that will keep the value up,” he says.
“I think it’s important that surface owners get some type of annual payment because we, as surface owners, have to live with that for the rest of our lives, and our kids might also have to,” adds Rogers. “As long as that’s there we have to live with it, so we need to be compensated the best we can.”
Stumbough says a group of about 30 local landowners in Goshen County has begun to meet weekly to discuss issues related to mineral development in their area, and they’ve used the guidelines document extensively.
“They’re not just talking about getting together to negotiate agreements, but they’re also looking at ways to help the oil and gas industry, like with electricity for pumps,” says Stumbough. “They say the guidelines have been invaluable to them, and quite a few landowners in Platte County have also used these. It gives them a good idea of where to start, and the do’s and don’ts.”
“I think Grant and the others did an excellent job on the document, and I wish I’d had it when these pipelines were going through my place,” says Rogers, reiterating the importance of annual payments. “As the oil companies develop these fields, they don’t mind taking the increase in payments, so in some way there has to be some way to benefit the surface owner, too.”
In addition to the Converse County Landowners Association, Stumbough thanks the Goshen County Landowners Association for help in compiling the document.
Stumbough says the free handout is meant for guidance, and not meant to replace attorneys. “Landowners still need to work with attorneys – this is just to give them some guidance on some things to be aware of,” he says.