County unsure it will receive oil shale revenue | CraigDailyPress.com
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County unsure it will receive oil shale revenue

Collin Smith

At a glance

• Moffat County officials are unsure whether they will see mineral lease revenue funds withheld by the federal government since 1997 for certain oil shale lands near the Roan Plateau.

• Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet introduced legislation this month to pay a total of $17.1 million from the fund to four Colorado counties, including Moffat.

• Moffat County Commissioners said the county's share - about $1.7 million - could be important in offsetting expected tax revenue losses locally and at the state level.

At a glance

• Moffat County officials are unsure whether they will see mineral lease revenue funds withheld by the federal government since 1997 for certain oil shale lands near the Roan Plateau.

• Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet introduced legislation this month to pay a total of $17.1 million from the fund to four Colorado counties, including Moffat.

• Moffat County Commissioners said the county’s share – about $1.7 million – could be important in offsetting expected tax revenue losses locally and at the state level.

Moffat County officials are skeptical they will receive $1.7 million from the federal government related to a change in oil shale development that began in 1997.

“It has just been a waiting game,” Commissioner Tom Mathers said. “It’s like playing poker and never winning a hand. We started out with a bunch of money, and it just gets smaller and smaller and smaller.”

A total of $17.1 million is potentially on the table for Moffat, Rio Blanco, Garfield and Mesa counties from a special fund set aside by the federal government after it transferred ownership of oil shale lands in the Roan Plateau from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Bureau of Land Management.

As part of the deal, the federal government withheld all of Colorado’s mineral lease revenue until it built up enough funds to pay for cleanup costs at the Anvil Points shale research facility and to pay for administrative costs to transfer ownership from the DOE to the BLM.

In August 2008, the federal government found it not only had enough money to pay for cleanup and administrative costs – $37 million and $39.4 million, respectively – but it had an excess of about $35.6 million.

Usually, that money would be split 50/50 between the federal and state governments. However, upon discovering the excess funds, U.S. Department of Interior officials said they did not have legislative authority through the 1997 law to release Colorado’s share.

Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, introduced legislation Aug. 6 to remedy the issue for local counties.

Their bill would take the state’s share of about $17.1 million and give it directly to the four counties they said are most affected by oil shale development.

Under their legislation, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties would each get 40 percent, or about $6.8 million, and Moffat and Mesa counties would each get 10 percent, or about $1.7 million.

Still, the Moffat County Commission is unsure whether the county’s share will ever make its way into the local budget.

Mathers said Moffat County was slated to get $7 million at one point, but the county’s share decreased and he still hasn’t been given a clear explanation why.

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we ended up with nothing,” Mathers said.

Commissioner Audrey Danner said the issue about the fund is an example of why it’s important for the county to be in constant communication with its neighbors and representatives at the state and federal governments.

“We need to know what’s happening in our county and our region,” she said.

Each commissioner also said the $1.7 million now in limbo could be a big benefit to the county.

County officials have said the decline in energy activity will have a large impact on local tax revenue within the next two years.

At the same time, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, which supplements counties with millions of dollars in project grants funded by energy industry taxes, has less money to help out.

Commissioner Tom Gray said it is possible that if things don’t change – if the local energy industry doesn’t rebound and DOLA doesn’t find more available funding – the county would be looking at its own distasteful cuts along the lines of Gov. Bill Ritter’s recent $320 million slash of state expenditures, which also included further cuts to the DOLA grant program.

“We will have to live off what we have and prioritize what’s most important and make cuts where we can,” Gray said.


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