|Calls & Emails Needed to House Energy Committee Members
On Thursday, members of the House of Delegates introduced a version of the “right to trespass” bill, which would give natural gas companies the right to access private property for the purpose of surveying without getting landowner permission. HB 2688 appeared to be on the fast track and was immediately taken up by the House Energy Committee. However, as the Charleston Gazette reported, the committee delayed further consideration of the bill after members raised a flurry of questions.Committee Chair Bill Anderson (R-Wood), one of the bill’s sponsors, said he plans to put the bill back on the agenda next week.
Click here for a list of House Energy Committee members and their contact information.
HB 2688 is identical to SB 245, which we learned is much broader than last year’s trespass bill (SB 596). SB 596 gave pipeline companies who have submitted an application to and been assigned a docket number by FERC the right to enter for private property for survey activities. SB 245 and HB 2688 apply to any entity organized as a natural gas company under the federal Natural Gas Act, and include references to undefined terms such as “works” and “additional facilities.”
HB 2688 and SB 245 are modeled after a controversial law in Virginia that has resulted in landowner confusion and anger; criminal charges against surveyors; lawsuits against landowners for turning away surveyors; and countersuits against the pipeline companies. The Virginia law has also created challenges for law enforcement officials who respond to property owners’ requests for assistance and its constitutionality is currently being challenged in the Virginia Supreme Court.
See our recent litigation update for background on the recent West Virginia Supreme Court decision this bill attempts to override.
At this point, it is unclear what will happen next with the Senate version of the trespass bill (SB 245) and the industry’s re-branded forced pooling bill (SB 244). Both bills are pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump (R-Morgan) has not decided if or when he will put SB 245 on the agenda. SB 244 has been the subject of two stakeholder meetings over the past week, with no apparent hope of agreement by various interested parties.
We’ll continue to keep you posted. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, please tell your Senators to oppose these shameful attempts to take way the property rights of West Virginians.
Some Good News
On Tuesday, Senator Dave Sypolt (R-Preston) introduced SB 369, a “land reunion” bill that would begin to reverse the trend of separate ownership by giving surface owners a first chance to own any interest in the minerals under their land that are sold for non-payment of property taxes. We are grateful to the WV Food and Farm Coalition, who put the bill on their 2017 Policy Platform and joined us in lobbying for the bill Thursday at their annual Local Food and Farms Day.
Senator Sypolt is also the lead sponsor on SB 370, which would use royalty payments owed to missing and unknown heirs to plug orphaned wells. Both bills have been referred to the Senate Energy, Industry, and Mining Committee (EIM), and we’ve been told the committee will likely take up SB 369 next week. Since SB 369 and SB 370 both second committee references, it’s important they be taken up by EIM as soon as possible. If your fingers aren’t worn out from calling or typing, please contact committee members and urge their support.
On the House side, Delegates Barbara Fleischauer (D-Monongalia) and Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha) have introduced HB 2170, which would (finally) implement the recommendations of the studies mandated by the 2011 Horizontal Well Control Act. In 2013, the DEP reported to the Legislature that additional protections were needed “to reduce potential exposures” and” to provide for a more consistent and protective safeguard for residents in affected areas.” HB 2170 would establish emission standards for noise, light, dust, and other air emissions from the drilling of horizontal wells; and increase the distance between wells and people’s homes to 1,500 feet.
It’s past time for the protections to be implemented! Please contact House Energy Committee Chair Bill Anderson and ask him to place the bill on the committee’s agenda.
West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization