WV Senate passes co-tenancy bill

CHARLESTON - A controversial bill allowing natural gas drilling if 75 percent of the landowners of the property approve passed the West Virginia Senate on Saturday.

House Bill 4268, known as the Co-tenancy Modernization and Majority Protection Act, passed by a vote of 23 to 11. However, the Senate also approved an amendment to the title of the bill that will require approval by the House of Delegates.

Currently in West Virginia, natural gas developers must have 100 percent approval from landowners.

"In some cases, rights owners can't be found to sign leases, resulting in a great deal of acreage being unavailable for drilling that otherwise would be," said Brett Loflin, of Northeast Natural Energy and an Independent Oil & Gas Association of West Virginia board member. "Sometimes there are multiple rights owners listed for a property and all of them can't be found."

The bill is meant to deal with those types of situations, but also has protections for non-consenting owners.

"They can take a royalty provided to consenting owners and a lease bonus or a second option of becoming a working interest owner in the natural gas well," Loflin said.

Officials with the Independent Oil & Gas Association of West Virginia have said passage of a co-tenancy bill is vital to the industry's success in the state.

"It would lead to increased production, increased severance and property tax revenues, increased royalty payments to mineral owners and increased employment," said Charlie Burd, executive director of IOGAWV.

"This bill is supported by everyone in the industry," said Marc Monteleone, IOGAWV president.

On Monday, Gov. Jim Justice said he wanted the bill to die in the Senate in order to tie it to raising severance taxes in a special session. However, on Tuesday he said he would sign the co-tenancy bill if it reaches his desk.

The vote was mostly along party lines, with most Republicans voting for passage, while most Democrats opposed it.

Those opposing the bill said it forces non-consenting landowners to allow drilling, even if they don't agree to it. Those in favor of it said it allows natural gas development to move forward.

This article was authored by Fred Pace for the Huntington Herald Dispatch. Click here to read it on the publication's website.