Forced pooling bill has new life in legislature

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers will take another shot at forced pooling legislation in next year’s legislative session. An interim committee got a look at a proposed bill Monday at the state capitol.

The proposal reconstitutes the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a six-member panel headed up the state DEP secretary and another DEP official. The other four members would be appointed by the governor.

The commission would be charged with approving shallow and deep well gas drilling on large tracts of land when mineral rights owners do not voluntarily give up their rights when 80 percent of the mineral rights have already been obtained.

A similar bill died on the final night of the regular session back in March on a 49-49 vote.

Del. Woody Ireland (R-Pleasants) told fellow committee members Monday something must be done.

“We can do nothing; do something and we all may not agree on the actual details of that but you’re going to have to come to some agreement sometime,” Ireland said.

The proposed bill contains a number of protections for surface and mineral owners. Applicants for the forced pooling option must first meet a requirement that “good faith negotiations” have taken place with property owners.

The state can’t afford to have another bill die in the legislature, Ireland said.

“Quite frankly, I personally am against forced pooling and that’s the whole reason I’m in favor of doing something in respect of where we are,” Ireland said.

There was an opportunity for protecting landowners and mineral owners with the beginning of the work in the Marcellus shale but that was largely missed, Ireland said. Producers are now looking at the Utica shale and that gives the state a second chance, the delegate said.

“As we moved toward the Utica, with the current statutes on the books, landowners and mineral owners basically have very little protection with the exception of the siting of the well,” Ireland said.

The bill discussed Monday will likely be introduced when state lawmakers begin their 60-day legislative session in January.

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