Update to the update, 2/29/16: Some Good News: Earlier today, SB 596, the pipeline survey access (or “right to trespass”) bill was soundly defeated on the Senate floor, with only 11 Senators voting in favor and 23 opposed.
Also SB 646, the forced leasing bill appears to be dead. After devoting the entirety of it’s 9am meeting to the bill, no action was taken and it was not placed on the agenda for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s afternoon meeting, which was later cancelled.
We understand there is some effort afoot to revive the “right to trespass” bill. If that happens we will let you know. In the meantime, please take a few minutes to thank Senators who stood with West Virginia landowners in opposing both SB 596 and SB 508, which passed the Senate last week. You can see how your Senators voted on these bills here and here.
Then, if you haven’t already, please contact your Delegate(s) and House Judiciary and Energy Committee members and tell them to oppose SB 508 and SB 565 (see more info. on these bills and contact info. for committee members below).
Thank you for contacting your legislators about these terrible bills and making your voices heard. We must keep the pressure on.
Several Bad Bills Continue to Work Their Way Through the Legislature ~ Please Take Action
Last week we told you about three terrible bills working their way through the Legislature that help oil and gas drillers at the expense of West Virginia landowners. In this update, we’ll fill you in on where these bills are in the process and let you know about two other bills that have gotten momentum since then.
The most concerning is SB 508, a bill that undermines our property rights by taking away the ability to file nuisance suits against oil and gas drillers and others whose activities devalue and interfere with our enjoyment and use of our property. This bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House Judiciary Committee. (Read more here and here.)
If SB 508 passes, property owners would be left with no legal recourse to hold irresponsible neighbors accountable for their actions. We can’t let the Legislature take this right away. Click here to learn more and send a message to Delegates telling them to “Vote No on SB 508,” or send a personalized email to all committee members by copying the list below and pasting into your email ‘To’ field:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Another bill that has passed the Senate is SB 565, which would allow drillers to build well pads and access roads on a surface owners land without getting a we’ll work permit. Instead, drillers would apply to build the pad and roads under a general water pollution control permit for oil and gas related construction activities issued by the DEP Division of Water and Waste Management (DWWM). There are two problems with this.
First, Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs) are not engineer approved, or subject to an engineering review by the DEP. SWPPPs are only intended to control sediment and DWWM only reviews the plans for how well they will keep sediment from the construction site from entering rivers and streams.
Second, the stormwater permit is only in effect during construction. This means if the pad or access roads are poorly built and problems arise after construction is complete, and the driller has not yet applied for and received a well work permit, the DEP may be left with no way to make the driller correct these problems.
The good news is that DEP Secretary Randy Huffman has voiced opposition to SB 565, which is now before the House Energy Committee. Here are email address for House Energy Committee members:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
The other bill told you about last week, was a bill advanced by the House Energy Committee approved a bill that would allow drillers to lease jointly owned or heirship mineral tracts if a simple majority of owners agree to sign – changing existing common law that currently requires all owners with an interest in tract to sign before a company can execute a lease. (Read more here.) HB 4639 appeared to be on the fast track, but on Monday the House voted to send the bill to the House Judiciary Committee for further scrutiny and by the end of the week was declared dead by Delegate Woody Ireland, whose committee had originated the bill. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that an even worse version of this forced leasing legislation is now moving in the Senate. Like, HB 4639, for surface owners who only control a small portion of the minerals under their property, SB 646 would allow the wishes of these surface owners to be ignored if a little more than 50 percent of their co-owners in the mineral tract make a deal with the gas company. Additionally, SB 646 would allow tracts to be pooled into units without surface or mineral owner agreement, and allow a surface owner’s land to be used for one of those monster pads for horizontal drilling even if there was a “no surface use” lease. The bill says, “The operator’s use of any surface tract overlying the jointly developed leases shall be permissible for that joint development.”
As the WV Royalty Owners said in a statement last week, “This isn’t just forced pooling, this is forced pooling on steroids. Last year some [legislators] were concerned that force pooling would force 20 percent to lease. This bill forces 49.9 percent to lease with no prohibition of deductions, no depth or target formation limitations, no surface protection, and no recourse against the driller.”
Like SB 508, SB 646 is yet another shameful attempt to take away the property rights of West Virginians. This terrible bill is on the Senate Judiciary Committee Agenda today at 3PM. Please contact Senate Judiciary Committee members and your Senators and tell them to “Vote No on SB 646.” Here are emails for the Senate Judiciary Committee members:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Mitch.Carmichael@wvsenate.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Kent.Leonhardt@wvsenate.gov, Mark.Maynard@wvsenate.gov, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Earlier in the week, this Committee passed out SB 596, which would give pipeline companies planning the interstate pipeline projects the right to access private property for the purpose of surveying without getting landowner permission. Currently, there are several such pipeline projects at various stages of development that will cross portions of West Virginia. The bill effectively reverses a Monroe County circuit court decision regarding survey access for these pipeline projects.
The pipeline companies had been relying on and citing West Virginia’s eminent domain statute saying it gave them survey access before an eminent domain proceeding has been initiated. That statute says eminent domain can only can only be for a “public purpose”.
In the Monroe County case, the judge ruled that the Mountain Valley pipeline was not for a public purpose and therefore the pipeline company didn’t have a right to survey people’s land without their permission.
SB 596 gives pipeline companies who have made application and been assigned a docket number by FERC the right to enter for survey activities. The bill does require notice to all owners and occupants 15-60 days before entry, requirements that do not currently exist. The bill also limits surveyors to the use of hand to hand tools, and prevents driving or parking motor vehicle on the property without permission.
That’s it for now. We’ll continue to keep you posted, so stay tuned.