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Oil and natural gas industry’s biggest bill of WV Legislative session moves out of committee

By Kate Mishkin

The Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would allow companies to drill on minority mineral owners’ land without their consent moved from committee to the House of Delegates floor Friday afternoon, but not without an hour of public comments and nearly three hours of committee deliberation.

House Bill 4268, also known as the co-tenancy bill, would pave the way for natural gas and oil companies to drill as long as the majority of mineral rights owners, or three-quarters of the ownership, say it’s OK.

The bill resembles Senate Bill 576 last year, which addressed both co-tenancy and joint development, and did not pass. In 2015, a bill dubbed the “forced pooling” bill died on the last night of the session after the vote was tied.

The committee was scheduled to debate the bill immediately following a public hearing Friday morning but was delayed until the afternoon. A committee substitute of the bill passed on a party line vote and now heads to the House floor.

The bill, in its current form, pleases surface owners, said Dave McMahon, founder of the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization. That could all change if the Senate alters the bill, he said.

“It requires surface owners’ consent when the bill is used, no matter where that tract is, whether it’s under the surface owner or not,” he said.

But Roger Adams, who owns 517 acres of land in Roane County but not the majority of mineral rights on that property, said the bill wasn’t good enough.

“Under this new law or this new code that they want to pass and make it a law I won’t have any say, and all I want is peace and quiet,” he said. “I don’t want development on my land. I don’t want the environmental damages, the traffic and the noise and I don’t want the pollution it causes.”

Friday morning, 30 people were allotted one minute and 45 seconds to speak about the bill at a public forum in the House chambers.

Woody Thrasher, secretary of commerce was the first to speak, and assured the room the bill would create more jobs.

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