Tipton tries to free naval reserve gas royalties

A federal bank account bulging with $50 million should be split, with half the money going to four northwest Colorado counties, according to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.

Tipton is preparing legislation that would release $50 million held in federal coffers for about four years now.

At one point during the height of gas drilling, the amount was increasing at the rate of $1 million a month.

The money is federal royalties collected from natural gas drilling on the land overlooking the Colorado River that had been designated as a naval oil shale reserve.

In drafting his measure, Tipton joins a long line of federal legislators who have, without success, tried to direct money from drilling on the oil shale reserve to communities in Colorado that dealt with the boom and eventual slowdown in the natural gas fields.

“These funds rightfully belong to the Colorado counties that contributed them, and should be put under local control,” Tipton said in a statement.

The fund was established for cleanup of the closed Anvil Points oil shale research facility at the base of the Bookcliffs, and by August 2008 it contained $112.2 million.

As of the last accounting in 2008, there was about $50 million remaining in the fund.

That money would be divided 49 percent and 51 percent, respectively, between the counties and the Interior Department.

Getting the counties’ share of the money would be “hugely significant,” Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis said. “We’ve been fighting for this for six years at least, and we keep thinking we’re at the finish line and another roadblock pops up.”

The federal government pays no property tax to local or state governments, making the royalty split all the more important, Meis said.

The measure will call for Garfield and Rio Blanco counties each to receive $10 million and Mesa and Moffat counties to collect $2.5 million each.

One of the first things that needs to be done is an audit of the account, said Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner.

Moffat County would set funds aside “for an energy-development related project,” Danner said.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.,  first sought to gain the money for northwest Colorado and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., later joined in. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also tried later to direct the money, all to no avail.

Salazar now is secretary of Interior and oversees the account, which requires an act of Congress to be disbursed.


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