Colorado Farm Bureau proposes initiative to protect private property rights

-Colorado Farm Bureau

DENVER — The Colorado Farm Bureau has filed ballot measures to protect private property owners from lost income resulting from government bans on oil and natural gas drilling.

The proposed initiatives are designed to ensure farmers, ranchers and other property owners are properly compensated if new laws or regulations prevent them from being able to benefit from the mineral rights attached to their property. The measures follow an initiative recently filed that sets random and increased setback requirements for oil and natural gas development from homes, parks, schools, rivers and many public places.

“These measures are about protecting Colorado’s farmers and ranchers from extremist attempts to enforce random setback requirements for oil and natural gas development,” said Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau. “While these setbacks may on their face sound reasonable, they would essentially eliminate oil and natural gas development in Colorado and strip away Colorado landowners’ right to use their land the way they wish.

“This is about protecting the Colorado way of life. Because taking private property is not the Colorado way.”

In Colorado, more than 600,000 private landowners have mineral rights that paid more than $600 million in royalties in 2012. Many of them are farmers and ranchers who rely on royalty checks from their mineral rights to supplement their income and ride out natural disasters and the unpredictable highs and lows of agricultural commodity prices, he said.

“These are checks that make a real impact,” Vorthmann said. “This is money that helps them through their lean years. It helps them put their kids through college. It guarantees they can make ends meet.”

The checks are also preserving an important economic driver for Colorado. Agriculture employs hundreds of thousands of Coloradans and contributes more than $40 billion to the economy each year, he said. Much of that is sustainable in part because of the partnerships farmers and ranchers have forged with the oil and gas industry to let them tap into the rich minerals and natural resources below their fields.

Michelle Smith, a farmer from Elbert, Colo., said she relies on income from oil and natural gas development to help sustain her family farming operations.

“Mineral rights make all the difference to our small organic-based farm,” Smith said. “Like many Colorado farm-to-table businesses, if we can’t offset operating costs with our minerals, then we’re out of business.”