CHARLESTON, W. Va. — In an unusual series of events, a bill that would allowing “forced pooling” or “integrated pooling” was put down by the House of Delegates with a 49-49 vote in the final hours of the last day of the Regular Legislative Session.
Earlier in the day, the Senate passed an amended version that ultimately created a commission charged with approving shallow and deep well gas drilling on large tracts of land when mineral rights owners did not voluntarily give up their rights when 80 percent of the mineral rights have already been obtained.
Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump (R-Morgan) said those who are involuntarily integrated would be required to be compensated at a fair price and would be provided other protections.
“The bill contains a protection for those people as to the surface,” he said. “There can be no above ground drilling apparatus, anything like that, on the surface of a person that has been pooled in, hasn’t gone in voluntarily.”
However opponents characterized the bill as a “gift” to the industry and violates property rights.
“I appreciate the work that’s been done and I think this is as fair as it’s going to get, but it’s still my fundamental right. It’s my property, it’s what I own,” Senator Ronald Miller (D – Greenbrier) said.
The bill was sent back to the House in the afternoon, but debate was delayed until later in the night, presumably to secure the votes needed to approve the bill.
The lead sponsor of the bill and chair of the House Energy Committee, Delegate Woody Ireland (R – Ritchie), attempted to promote the benefits of the legislation before the vote.
“We’re here again to do what’s right for West Virginia economically, from a standpoint of protecting our surface, from a standpoint of protecting our environment, from a standpoint of making sure folks get a fair shake,” he said. “I think that’s what this bill does.”
However, opponents of the bill –which equated to 21 Republicans and 28 Democrats at the end– said forcing holdouts into the fold was not in the best interest of the people.
“Forced pooling means without consent. They don’t want to do it,” Delegate Isaac Sponagle ((D – Pendleton) said. “We’re legally allowing taking their resources and transferring them to someone else who has a lot more political influence.”
The result came as a surprise to many as those who voted against the bill erupted into cheers as the 49-49 result was announced by Speaker Armstead.
Delegate Ireland, lead sponsor of HB 2688, takes a walk out of the chamber after bill fails. #wvlegis
— Whitney Burdette (@wburdette_DM) March 15, 2015
The failure of the forced pooling bill is truly stunning.
— Del. Stephen Skinner (@delegateskinner) March 15, 2015
The two members away from their desks when the vote was taken were Delegate Justin Marcum (D – Mingo) and Delegate Linda Phillips (D – Wyoming). In a previous vote on the bill, Marcum voted for, while Phillips voted against.
Talk on the floors of both chambers wondered if the House could reconsider the bill. Normally, a voter from the prevailing side could call for the motion to reconsider and vote again, but a tie lacks a prevailing side.