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Delegation pushes methane bill through Congress

Wyoming coal bed methane leaseholders will soon be able to breathe easier

October 15, 1998

Washington, D.C. -- Wyoming's congressional delegation succeeded in passing legislation today that saves thousands of coal bed methane lease holders in Wyoming and across the nation from suffering extensive economic trauma.

Companion bills authored by the delegation were introduced in the Senate and House. The legislation in the Senate passed through the Energy Committee last month before being ushered by Sens. Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi to the floor where it passed unanimously. Rep. Barbara Cubin successfully negotiated the legislation through the House as a free standing bill. Today, after weeks of wrangling with road blocks and an intensive effort to educate senators, representatives and affected parties, the delegation's bill "grandfathering" current lease agreements from the negative effects of a July court ruling, was sent to the president for his signature. The coal bed methane legislation was cleared by the Department of Interior and the president is expected to sign the bill.

"This is about jobs, jobs, jobs. Parts of our state economy were facing down a court decision that would have robbed them of jobs and future opportunities to grow," Thomas said. "This legislative fix is going to keep the gas flowing and facilitate a chance for the coal bed methane leaseholders to continue their work under the law that they began with."

"The time line was tough. We only had thirty days and for any bill to make it in that amount of time is a near miracle. The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes us a little longer. It happened because of teamwork," said Enzi. "Without the strong determination of the Delegation, people in Wyoming, and support from Democrats and Republicans in the other Western states, leaseholders would have been stripped of their private property by an unmerciful court decision."

"This is a huge success for the citizens of Wyoming," said Cubin. "Our legislation will protect gas producers and jobs and mineral royalties for thousands of leaseholders in our state

and throughout the nation. A lot of people worked very hard to move this bill through Congress in a relatively short time frame, and every time we ran into a road block we just directionally drilled around it, as the natural gas industry would say. The bill we have now sent to the President is a pragmatic solution to the Tenth Circuit Court's recent opinion and the ensuing coal bed methane "gridlock," and I have every confidence the President will sign it into law."

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case of the Southern Ute tribe in Colorado v.s. Amoco Production Company reversed the nearly 90-year-old practice of granting leaseholders the rights in the production of methane gas. This put agreements negotiated before the ruling in jeopardy, because according to the court ruling, the government now owns the rights to the methane, not the leaseholder. The delegation legislation "grandfather's" all agreements made prior to enactment of the legislation.

The delegation said its recently passed legislation was not a permanent solution, but a necessary stopgap measure until a more permanent solution can be forged in the future.

Amoco is expected to appeal the circuit court decision to the Supreme Court.