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Gas drilling bill passes Senate on Crossover Day


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The bill that would allow for consolidation of drilling rights for natural gas passed the State Senate by a vote of 19-14 Wednesday with one member absent.

The bill passed on “Crossover Day,” the legislative session deadline set in statute for bills to pass in their house of origin. The regular session ends at midnight April 8.

Senate Bill 576, also known as the Cotenancy Mineral Development Act, would allow what formerly was known as forced pooling but is now called joint development. It would allow drilling when 75 percent of owners of a tract agree to allow development of mineral rights, even if the other 25 percent do not approve or cannot be located.

It also would allow drilling companies to use horizontal drilling to extract natural gas under land using leases that were bought when shallow, vertical wells were the only drilling technology available. The measure now goes to the House of Delegates for debate.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, offered several amendments to the bill, all of which were rejected.

“We’re making it easier for corporations to take people’s property than it is for the government,” he said.

Three of his four amendments failed on a voice vote. The other, which would have allowed a nonconsenting cotenant to use due process to get a more satisfactory deal if he thinks the other owners negotiated a bad deal, failed 10-23 on a roll call vote, with one absence.

“Don’t kid yourself to think you did West Virginia a favor today,” Romano said. The bill violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, violates contract law and makes billions of dollars for oil and gas companies with no benefit to the residents of West Virginia.

“It’s a bad bill,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Mullins, R-Raleigh, disagreed.

“For me it’s all about creating jobs and opportunities for our citizens,” he said.

Sen. Ronald F. Miller, D-Greenbrier, said the bill would allow a company with deep pockets to tell West Virginians it will take what it wants.

Sen. Charles R. Trump, R-Morgan, defended the bill, saying it would allow 75 percent of a property’s owners to decide what they want to do with their land.

“This bill will allow development to occur,” rather than allowing a small minority to block it, he said.

Nonconsenting cotenants would receive royalties equal to the highest rate given to consenting owners, Trump said. The bill also would allow nonconsenting property owners to prevent drillers from working on their land without their consent, he said.

The West Virginia Farm Bureau and the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization had lobbied against the bill. Both the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association cite cotenancy and lease integration as key to economic development.

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