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Conservation Acts and Correlative Rights: Has the Pendulum Swung Too Far?

Kemp Wilson, Proceedings of 35th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1989)

Opinion is like a pendulum and obeys the same law. If it [18-3] goes past the centre of gravity on one side, it must go a like distance on the other; and it is only after a certain time that it finds the true point at which it can remain at rest.1

The oil and gas conservation acts of a number of Rocky Mountain states have their roots in the 1950 Model Act promulgated by the Interstate Oil Compact Commission (Commission or IOCC).2 The Model Act was intended to provide a balance between waste prevention and the protection of correlative rightssuch balance to be struck by the regulatory agency charged with the duty of administering the conservation legislation. However, there is some indication that despite the fact that the Model Act is 39 years old and holding, the boards and commissions of the various states are still struggling to find the proper balance point.3 This paper will explore the development of the doctrine of correlative rights in the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming vis--vis waste prevention measures, and directions that the regulatory agencies of those states seem to be taking as we enter an era of development drought in the Rocky Mountain region.