Shallow gas lease bill hearing scheduled today

Posted: Wednesday, February 04, 2004

A bill that would direct the state to buy back eight shallow gas leases covering 22,000 acres on the lower Kenai Peninsula is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee at 1:30 p.m. today.

Senate Bill 250, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, whose district includes Anchor Point, Homer, Diamond Ridge and Fritz Creek, the general area of the leases, would require the state repurchase leases it sold to Lapp Resources Inc. in June of last year.

The sale became highly controversial when many of the area's local landowners learned their surface property rights gave them little or no say over subsurface operations of the leaseholder. Except for a few owners who were granted subsurface rights to their lands at the time of statehood, the Alaska Constitution puts ownership and control of subsurface mining rights in the hands of the state.

The leases also came under fire because of a lack of advertising that left many residents in the dark until it was too late to offer comment about the approaching sale.

The state followed the existing law that required only that public notices be published in papers of general distribution. That included the Anchorage Daily News and the Peninsula Clarion, but not two widely read weekly papers published in Homer -- the Homer News and the Homer Tribune.

Protests over the prospect of shallow gas drilling on their properties and the potential threat to groundwater, including the city of Homer's water supply, grew rapidly.

In part, they focused on a particular style of shallow gas development known as coal bed methane, which requires fracturing coal seams with pressurized water to release gas.

It was the potential that that water would become polluted and, in turn, contaminate clean groundwater that had many residents concerned.

Public meetings called by state and Kenai Peninsula Borough officials gave resource officials an opportunity to explain shallow gas development and afforded residents a chance to air grievances about the whole leasing process.

By the start of the legislative session, buyback bills had been introduced in the Senate and House, Stevens' bill in the Senate, and its companion, House Bill 364, introduced by District 35 Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer.

No hearings have yet been scheduled for House Bill 364.

The SB 250 hearing will be teleconferenced through the Homer Legislative Information Office at 345 W. Sterling Highway, Suite 102A. The public is invited to comment.

People may listen to an audio stream of the hearing over the Inter-net at Click on the appropriate audio stream.

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