Bennet asks feds to pay counties drilling royalties

The federal government should move quickly to pay millions of dollars to four northwest Colorado counties, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Bennet’s letter follows up on a decision this summer by local governments in the region asking him to set aside plans to introduce legislation requiring the Interior Department to make the payments.

At issue is as much as $76 million in royalties from natural gas drilling on the Roan Plateau that has been withheld from the counties for a decade now.

“Colorado and its counties have been owed these royalties for far too long and we must resolve this issue,” Bennet wrote to Zinke. “I ask you to take all available steps to ensure that this money, which rightfully belongs to the state of Colorado, is distributed as soon as possible. I also ask that you explore any options to deliver the funds directly to the relevant counties in order to avoid further delays or reductions in the funds.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., sought a delay in legislation because he was working with Zinke to direct the cash to the counties directly, without involving the state.

Officials with the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado said they hoped for the direct payment so that the state wouldn’t be involved, and take some or all of it.

The affected counties also could receive money without affecting revenue limits under the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Under legislation that allowed drilling on the Roan Plateau, four counties stand to receive royalty revenues.

Garfield and Rio Blanco counties are to receive 40 percent each while Mesa and Moffat counties would take in 10 percent each.


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