Brighton homeowner being 'forced pooled' by oil and gas company

BRIGHTON, Colo. -- Since Betty Bobo bought her Brighton home more than a decade ago, she hasn't thought twice about the mineral rights she also owns underneath her house near Highway 87 and N. 42nd Ave.

That was until she received a letter in the mail from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) letting her know about a hearing and an oil and gas company that applied for a force pooling order to drill underneath her home.

"This is our property. How can they seize and take something that belongs to you out right?" said Bobo.

Under Colorado's arcane "forced pooling" statue, if five neighbors on a block own their mineral rights and an oil and gas company wants to lease them to drill underneath their homes; all it takes is for one neighbor to say 'yes' and sign a lease, so that drillers can buy up all the mineral rights on the block. Even if most mineral rights owners don't want to sell.

The COGCC is responsible for approving any force pooling orders.

"They're just going to bull right over not only us, but everyone else here," said Bobo.

The original idea behind Colorado's law was to prevent drilling frenzies and ensure all mineral rights owners are compensated. Critics call the practice a form of corporate eminent domain.

"They think it's their God-given right to just come in and take anything that they want to take," explained Bobo.

Petro Operating Company, LLC is the oil and gas company Bobo's fighting. They want to drill 24 horizontal wells that can extend two miles or more underneath homes. Petro has offered Bobo, through a lease, a $500 signing bonus and 17.5 percent royalty on any potential oil and gas revenue.

Bobo said it is not about the money, it's about what is right.

"If that leaks. If something happens, and then it comes up to the surface and the water," she said.

For now, Bobo said they can't afford a lawyer to make sense of the hundreds of pages of documents she has been sent from the COGCC and the lawyer representing Petro.

She did file a protest with the COGCC and a hearing on the forced pooling appears to be scheduled in June, but Bobo said she worries she may have no choice but to sign on the dotted line.

"What if this was in Cherry Hills? The polo club? Would they be doing this too?" she asked.

The practice known as forced pooling is not isolated to Brighton.

Homeowners in Broomfield have dealt with the same thing with Extraction Oil and Gas and so have hundreds of other Colorado property owners.

States like Idaho and Kentucky go much further than Colorado's law. Both states require a majority of mineral rights owners to sign on before filing a pooling notice, not just one person like in Colorado.

Colorado lawmakers did take some steps to address some of the 'force pooling' concerns during the most recent legislative session. They passed a bill to give mineral rights owners more time to consider a lease offer. It also shields them from liability costs related to oil spills and other damages. The bill is waiting a signature from Governor John Hickenlooper.

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