WV SORO Legislative Update Archive

January 4, 2008

Happy New Year! As we start 2008, we wanted to provide you with a brief update of the issues we have been following during the legislative interim meetings and give you a quick glimpse and what we'll be working on once the regular legislative session begins next week.  We appreciate your support and the opportunity to serve as a voice for surface owners at the legislature. We encourage you to scroll down to learn more about recent happenings in Charleston and elsewhere. We also welcome your input and suggestions and look forward to working with you in the coming months to bring about some positive changes that will favor West Virginia surface owners.  Contact us anytime by e-mailing Norm or Julie at wvsoro.org or by calling (304) 346-5891. 

"Daylighting" and Notice to Surface Owners

During the November legislative interim meetings, the Select Committee on Infrastructure heard presentations from WV-SORO, the oil & gas drillers and various state agencies on the issue of "daylighting." "Daylighting" is cutting down extra trees in the hope that sunlight and wind will accelerate drying of access roads.  Our position is that it rarely works and is not needed on a well constructed, re-vegetated and properly maintained road. 

Unfortunately, the committee bought the industry and WV Division of Forestry line that "daylighting" is a widely accepted practice.  As a result the committee decided to do nothing on "daylighting" but was interested in other issues raised in the discussion, particularly the short (15-day) notice to surface owners before drilling commences on their property. 

In December, a lawyer for the committee presented a bill which extends the notice to surface owners, as well as their time to comment to 30-days.  The draft bill also contains a provision that gives the Department of Environmental Protection the authority to deny a permit if the soil erosion and sediment control plan allows more disturbance to the land than is reasonably necessary.

The bill will be considered when the Committee meets on January 7, 2008.  If you haven't already, please consider contacting committee members to tell them you support extending the time for surface owners to comment on drillers' permits and expanding DEP's authority to deny them due to more than minimal disturbance to the land. Tell them that surface owners should also be notified before the driller comes onto their property to plan or survey well sites and access roads so that they can have some say in where wells and access roads are placed. 

Oil & Gas Drilling in State Forests

The Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee is considering the adoption of a rule proposed by the Department of Natural Resources that would provide earlier notice to state forest officials and the public about drilling and maintenance activities in our forests.  As originally drafted by DNR, the rule would also require re-vegetation with native plants and limit road slopes.  The oil & gas industry is working against rule and it was pulled from the committee's agenda in both November and December. The committee mandated a series of meetings between state forest users and industry to negotiate a compromise and is expected to take up the bill on January 7, 2008.  With stakeholder negotiations ongoing, there's still time to contact committee members and tell them you support additional protections for our state forests.  Click here for more information or to contact committee members.

Surface Owners' Bill of Rights

In December, WV-SORO began recruiting co-sponsors and talking with legislators about a Surface Owners' Bill of Rights. WV-SORO identified several changes that are needed to level the playing field between operators and surface owners and ensure good stewardship of the land and economic fairness in the state’s oil and gas fields. These changes include: 

•    Earlier notice that the driller is coming, including requiring notice before the driller comes on the property to survey well site, access road or pipeline locations. 
•    Requiring a face-to-face meeting between the drill and the landowner before the permit application is filed. 
•    Allowing for a pre-permit negotiating period to give the surface owner input in planning and executing well site(s) and access roads, including location, type of road construction and re-vegetation type; and requiring mediation if the driller and surface owner cannot come to an agreement.
•    Ensuring fair and equitable compensation by requiring the driller to post an individual well bond if no pre-drilling agreement is reached between the driller and the surface owner.
•    Valuing land taken for well sites, roads or pipelines at market value, rather than the value of its current use, and requiring compensation for the total value of the surface owner’s losses, including adjacent land.
•    Requiring the driller to offer the surface owner residential gas service, at cost, from the wells or gathering lines on their property. 

We also received valuable input from WV-SORO members at our first regional  and information meeting in Weston on December 13, 2007. Suggestions from those in attendance on what they would like to see incorporated into a ''Surface Owners’ Bill of Rights,’ include holding the driller responsible for the property taxes on the portion of their land taken for well sites, access roads and pipelines. Others cited concerns over noise pollution from compressor stations. There are no regulations governing compressors or stations on gathering pipelines from gas wells.

WV-SORO will be working on behalf of surface owners to get the legislature to implement many of these changes during the upcoming legislative session. We hope you will take an active role in helping us make these changes a reality by contacting your legislators to share your story and tell them what you think needs needs to be done to protect property owners from industry abuses. We also hope you will consider attending WV-SORO Day at the Legislature on February 6, 2008. (More details coming soon.) We also hope to hold more regional meetings in the near future. 

West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie Street, Charleston, West Virginia 25311