Enough rhetoric; state should buy back controversial gas leases

Posted: Monday, January 05, 2004

In the December 2003 issue of "Alaska Business Monthly," Gov. Frank Murkowski indicated support for property owners affected by coalbed methane development by stating, "No individual is going to have his rights compromised without due process. I will recommend changes in existing statute if needed."

He also said that a buyback is a possibility.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed Resolution 2003-129, endorsing the governor's stance.

Assembly member Chris Moss said it best: "The issue isn't whether we are sending a message to the oil companies that we are not going to develop the lower peninsula. It is more a message of what's good government. Good government means good public participation. You may not agree with what comes out of it, but the main thing is that you have that opportunity to participate."

Only a very small percentage of the more than 100,000,000 acres of state land is private property. Someday, it may be necessary to use the subsurface estates under private lands, but now with so much state and borough land available, it is not necessary to select lands of unwilling surface owners for oil and gas development.

Subsurface ownership is still a very confusing issue for most property owners. People deserve prior notification of leases because the activities of subsurface owners will markedly affect the lives of surface owners and surrounding areas.

It is interesting to note that in Sen. Tom Waggoner's "Voices of the Peninsula" on Dec. 29 he mentions that the "Peninsula Clarion was involved because the lease area included Nikiski." Logically, the Homer News and the Homer Tribune should have been included as well!

Most people do not monitor government Web sites in hopes of stumbling across a notice affecting their area. Given Homer's history, a notice of an oil or gas lease sale in the Homer papers would have produced a flood of comments!

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is a huge area with diverse, dynamic communities, not all of which should be forced to accept industrial development.

Diversity helps ensure a strong borough-wide economy. Homer has successfully pursued small, sustainable, local development emphasizing tourism, fishing, the arts, marine and outdoor education, and retirement.

Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer states in his Interim Newsletter, "The Homer area generally favors smaller economic development and tourism ventures, rather than pursuing projects with possible environmental impacts, such as SNG."

Industrial gas development, particularly intensive coal bed methane drilling, has adversely affected communities in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Idaho and New Mexico.

Water tables have been depleted; land has been contaminated with salt and toxic waters; thousands of miles of dirt roads carrying heavy truck traffic have created unhealthy dust and noise problems; and gas companies have occupied private lands with drilling equipment, trailers, compressors and workers' housing.

Of course, private property owners in Homer are upset!

They are in a poor position to negotiate a fair deal to protect their land against the money and power of big gas-oil companies and their allies in state and local government.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly saw fit to support Resolution 2003-129 supporting a buyback of the leases in the Homer area ($1 per acre!) because they were appalled at the lack of public participation.

Citizens deserve public notice, full public participation and legal opportunity to appeal decisions.

Sen. Gary Stevens has submitted a bill for a repurchase of leases which provides an option for payment with credits to buy leases on other state lands. This is in effect a fair trade.

Most property owners in Kachemak Bay have a suggestion for Sen. Waggoner let's start the process over with a buyback and restore citizen confidence in our state government. The outcry over these leases is happening statewide and cuts across all socio-economic and political perspectives.

Those assembly members who support Resolution 2003-129 convey a strong message to our state representatives that Kenai Peninsula residents deserve fair, open government.

Nina Faust, Homer

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