CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Representatives of a variety of groups dealing with the oil and gas industry were gathered for the second day in a row by the Justice administration — this time with leaders of the top natural gas producers in West Virginia.
It’s a push by Gov. Jim Justice and his staff to try to reach long-discussed compromises among the oil and gas companies and those who have property and mineral rights.
“What I’m trying to do is bring all the parties together — bring the land owners, bring the gas companies and try to resolve and find a way that’s better for everybody — a better way for West Virginia, a better way for the private landowner and a better way for the gas company,” Justice said as he arrived at today’s meeting.
“I think there is real opportunity here that we can generate more severance tax dollars or more employment or more opportunity to West Virginia — but the gas companies themselves, they’ve got to give back.”
Justice continued, “The problem is, in many situations, the people that own the property feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick. So what I’m trying to do is bring everybody together and see if there’s a way everybody can come together.”
Those taking part in the meetings described the effort as worthwhile.
“I appreciate the governor is trying to get people together to try to work out this problem,” said David McMahon, a lawyer representing surface owners and mineral owners.
“Because it is so complex with so many players, I am concerned it will be difficult to get the details right.”
Some who are taking part in the meetings said Justice himself would play a leading role today, possibly breaking the various groups into rooms and trying to lead each side to elements of compromise — similar to what the governor attempted to do during budget discussions with legislators last spring.
Justice said everyone would begin in the same room, with the possibility of breaking into groups later.
The administration is in one awkward spot. Businessman Bray Cary, who has been serving as a volunteer in the administration, is a board member for prominent natural gas producer EQT. No one mentioned Cary’s presence at Wednesday’s meeting, and no one predicted he would participate directly today.
The annual legislative session kicks off next week, with the governor setting the tone during his State of the State address on Wednesday evening.
For years, legislators and groups surrounding the oil and gas industry have negotiated issues such as co-tenancy and lease integration, often described as forced pooling.
Incentives to reach compromises now include the development of major pipelines, such as the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley, the $83.7 billion memorandum of understanding with China Energy over natural gas development and progress on the possibility of an Appalachian natural gas storage hub that could feed manufacturers.
The first meeting, on Wednesdayt, was led by Justice administration chief of staff Mike Hall, former finance chairman in the state Senate.
Those who attended included Donnie Adkins, a lawyer in the governor’s office; Dan Greear, counsel for the House of Delegates; Stephanie Ojeda, counsel for the Senate; Jason Webb, a lobbyist who represents the West Virginia Land and Mineral Owners Association; Tom Huber, president of the West Virginia Royalty Owners Association; Charles Wilfong and Dwayne O’Dell of the West Virginia Farm Bureau; and McMahon.
Today’s meeting brings in executives from major gas producers EQT, Antero and Southwest Energy. Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead also were said to be taking part, as were legislators on energy committees.
One issue is not just the details of potential natural gas legislation but how it would take shape — whether as one, bundled bill or as separate bills.
The danger of the bundled bills that have been put forward in the past, observers said, is that it’s easy for lawmakers or lobbyists to object to one aspect — potentially killing the whole bill.
Some of those who have been taking part in the meetings said in telephone interviews that they are glad the governor is taking an active approach.
“The West Virginia Land and Mineral Owners Association has always been willing to come to the table to try to work out an agreement on these complex issues,” said Webb, the lobbyist for that association.
“We’ve been doing this now for nearly eight years, and we have been committed throughout that eight-year period to meet pretty much any time, anywhere, any place to help move this state forward.”
Huber, with the royalty owners association, had a similar view.
“The West Virginia Royalty Owners Association is eager to come to an agreement on these mineral efficiency and modernization laws,” Huber said. “However, we want to make sure all stakeholders from the landowners to the mineral owners to industry and the people of West Virginia benefit from these changes and updates.
“We feel that is completely possible if we sit down and negotiate these laws in good faith. We applaud the governor’s office for proactively facilitating these negotiations.”