County expected to receive $7.2 million from Anvil Points fund

RBC | Rio Blanco, Garfield, Moffat and Routt counties are finally going to get some money back from the Anvil Points Oil Shale Trust Fund.

The fund was originally established to collect oil and gas lease revenues to be set aside for cleaning up the former federal Anvil Points Oil Shale Superfund site on the Roan Plateau, and to help affected communities mitigate the impact of oil shale development. Clean up at the Anvil Points site was completed in 2013, but the excess funds—to the tune of millions of additional dollars—were never released back to the state, apparently because no one specified where any extra money would go.

More than $113 million was withheld from oil and gas lease revenue for the trust. Of that, approximately $24 million was spent on clean-up efforts at the superfund site. Another $39 million went toward repayment of equipment and expenses to the Department of Energy.

In 2009, the Department of the Interior, who was responsible for the trust, “rescinded” an additional $12.9 million from the fund. According to Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) CEO Bonnie Peterson, “it doesn’t say why” the money was rescinded.

That left roughly $36.9 million in the fund, for which Colorado legislators have repeatedly gone to bat in bipartisan efforts to get the federal government to release those excess funds to no avail, until recently.

A March 13, 2018, joint press release by U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) announced that the Department of Interior intends to distribute a portion—$18 million—of what remains in the fund to Rio Blanco, Garfield, Moffat and Mesa counties. The Department of the Interior (DOI) will keep the remainder, as federal mineral lease dollars collected are generally divided evenly, or close to evenly, between the states and the DOI.

“It’s kind of an understood thing,” Peterson said of the division of funds, noting that in recent years the DOI has started keeping closer to 51 percent.

“The people of Colorado have waited far too long for this payment,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a Department of the Interior press release. “On behalf of the department and the administration, we look forward to working with you in the future to continue delivering results to the people of Colorado.”

House Bill 1249, introduced by Rep. Bob Rankin in February—passed the state senate Wednesday 35-0 on the third reading and is headed to the Governor’s office for approval next—makes sure those dollars will be distributed directly to the impacted counties, instead of going through the state. Rio Blanco and Garfield counties will each get 40 percent and Mesa and Moffat counties will each receive 10 percent.

“I cannot thank our AGNC delegation enough for helping us find an administrative solution,” Peterson said. “They have just been so helpful to move this along, and it’s refreshing to see everyone working together.”

Rankin thanked Peterson, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Sampson and Mesa County Commissioner Don Cook for their testimony before the state legislature on behalf of the bill.

Rio Blanco County stands to receive somewhere around $7.2 million, with an additional, smaller payment possibly coming near the end of the year.