CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Jim Justice says he plans to sign a bill that deals with the rights of land and mineral rights owners on natural gas drilling projects.

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Gov. Jim Justice

The governor made that commitment during an appearance on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“There is a lot of very positive benefits in co-tenancy because if, in fact, there’s more gas produced and there’s more opportunity within West Virginia, we’ll get a higher severance tax, so I will sign it,” Justice said.

The co-tenancy bill, HB 4268, passed the state Legislature this week. It allows operators to move ahead with oil and gas drilling once its strikes agreeable lease arrangements with at least 75 percent of the tract’s owners.

The bill requires that non-consenting owners receive the highest royalty paid to the majority owners. Royalties for unknown owners are placed into an account. After seven years, if unclaimed, half goes into a state fund to cap abandoned wells and half goes to support the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said on “Talkline” the governor is making the right decision in supporting the bill.

“We are thrilled,” she said. “It’s very refreshing to hear him say that he understands and appreciates the benefits that will come from this.”

Blankenship said the bill will be good for West Virginia’s economy.

“What that means long term — thousands of more jobs and a lot more revenue,” she said.

Additional work could start soon after the bill takes effect. Blankenship said the bill will attract more production companies to West Virginia.

Justice said he told House Speaker Tim Armstead he would sign the bill if Armstead agreed to a five percent pay raise for teachers and state employees. The governor signed the pay raise bill Tuesday after it cleared the House and Senate, ending a nine-day statewide strike.

“I was saying that we shouldn’t do co-tenancy without a tiering of natural gas. I still do believe that, but in order for us to get the 5 (percent raise) and move on down the road, I told the Speaker that I would do that,” Justice said.

The governor said he believes there is “solid support” from the land communities.

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