CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The State Senate Wednesday passed legislation pushed by the natural gas industry to break down what it says are barriers to horizontal drilling into massive gas reserves.

The Senate approved SB 576 19-14 with one absent and sent it to the House.

The legislation allows for “joint development” where natural gas from adjoining properties can be pooled for horizontal drilling as long as there are existing leases for those minerals, even if those leases were agreed to many years earlier.

Opponents argued the leases in some of these cases were signed long before horizontal drilling was in practice, so those mineral rights holders should be able to renegotiate with the gas company.

Supporters argue that without joint development, a hold out can block development, even when there is an existing lease.

Surface owners have fought the bill, saying their rights are not fully protected because a development can take place without their permission. However, the bill includes provisions for a $100,000 payment to those surface rights holders for any impact on their land.

The legislation also makes it easier for gas drillers to develop mineral reserves even when all the rights holders do not agree. Currently drillers need 100 percent of mineral rights owners, but they argue that that is sometimes impossible to obtain when a tract may have several hundred mineral ownership claims.

Under the bill, the companies would need 75 percent of the owners to agree before gas development could take place.

The bill now goes to the House.

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