WV SORO Update Archive

February 20, 2010

In This Week's Update...

  • Consideration of Surface Owners' Rights Recognition Act Postponed ~ Please Contact Committee Members
  • Marcellus Shale Bill Introduced in the House
  • Farm Bureau Abandons Membership
    • Excerpts of (WV Farm Bureau) Policy #103 Private Property Rights
    • Summary of HB 4566 (WV Farm Bureau Endorsed Bill)

Consideration of Surface Owners' Rights Recognition Act Postponed
Please Contact Committee Members

Late Tuesday, we learned that the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining (EIM) Committee was going to take up the Surface Owners' Rights Recognition Act (SB 529) the following (Wednesday, February 17). Unfortunately, the committee had a full agenda and did not get to the bill.  It is possible that EIM will take up the bill this coming week and we will work to get the bill (HB 4408) on the House Judiciary Committee agenda as well. 

When we were talking with EIM Committee members before Wednesday's meeting some of them mentioned they were hearing from folks back home. Please keep your calls and e-mails coming. They DO make a difference. Lists of committee members and their contact information are available in last week's update.

This coming week bills must be moved out of their assigned committees in the house of origin (House or Senate) in order to be read on three separate days and passed over to the other house. Please call and encourage House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley (D-Harrison) at (304) 340-3252 and Senate EIM Chairman Mike Green (D-Raleigh) at (304) 357-7831 to take up the bills (HB 4408 and SB 529).  Encourage other committee members to support the the Surface Owners' Rights Recognition Act. Let them know how important it is to you that they that they pass legislation this year to ensure that the rights of West Virginia surface owners are recognized and respected by oil and gas well drillers.
Marcellus Shale Bill Introduced in House

A bill that addresses Marcellus Shale water issues, HB 4513, was introduced this week in the House of Delegates.  Sponsored by Delegate Tim Manchin (D-Marion), it is a good start at regulating withdrawal of water for drilling and fracturing Marcellus Shale wells.  The bill also contains regulations requiring identification of the contents of fracing fluids and sets up a system for tracking the disposal of those fluids.

The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee and we encourage you to contact committee members to express your support.

Farm Bureau State Leadership Abandons Membership

First we received a request from the state leadership of the West Virginia Farm Bureau (WVFB) that we issue a retraction of our press release, which indicated their support of surface owners' rights. Then we learned that Don Michael, Director of Government Affairs for the Farm Bureau, had written an article in the Independent Oil & Gas Association’s (IOGA) February newsletter (see page 5) touting the Farm Bureau’s close relationship with the industry.  In response we sent the following the state leadership in an e-mail:

"If anything we thought we were doing the Farm Bureau a favor by mentioning the organization's support for surface owners' rights in our release.  More and more it appears to WV-SORO that the state leadership of the Farm Bureau is more interested in making it known that it does not support WV-SORO's bills than it is in actually working to get something passed for the benefit of its membership.  We have not seen or heard of the leadership taking any action in Charleston over the past two years to help get legislation passed.  Further the article by Mr. Michael in the Feb. 2010 IOGA newsletter adds credence to our belief that the first priority of state leadership is to maintain its relationship with the industry.  It was shameless that Mr. Micheal's article mentioned all the meetings the Farm Bureau held jointly with the the oil and gas industry, and did not mention than many if not most were co-sponsored by WV-SORO, and that our lawyer was the principal speaker at almost every one of them.  That is disingenuous.  WV-SORO finds it unfortunate that we can not work together on this issue for the benefit of both our members.   The only thing we will attribute as the Farm Bureau's position in further public communications will be language from its written policy statements.

We’ll be posting the entire e-mail exchange on our website, www.wvsoro.org

The state leadership has indicated that it has endorsed HB 4566, which was introduced on Friday.  Despite the good faith of Delegate Woody Ireland (R-Ritchie), the bill's lead sponsor, we believe WV-SORO and Farm Bureau members will be disappointed by the the less-than-halfway measures of HB 4566. (More on HB 4566 below.)

Ironically, of all the bills introduced this session to protect surface owners' rights with regard to oil and gas drilling the bill that most closely meets the “grassroots” policy (see below) approved at the WVFB's annual meeting in November is HB 3023, the Surface Owners' Bill of Rights.  Yet, according to the Farm Bureau website, WVFB is merely "monitoring" HB 3023 and HB 4408/SB 529, the Surface Owners' Rights Recognition Act, and has chosen instead to endorse a bill that does not does not have the incentives to negotiate and reach an agreement with the landowner or the improvements in enforcement and notice proposed in the Surface Owners Rights Recognition Act.

If you are a Farm Bureau member, please contact the state leadership in Buckhannon at 1-800-398-4630 and remind them that they work for you.  Ask them to clarify their position on surface owners’ rights and ask them what they are doing in Charleston to protect and further those rights. In addition, please contact your legislators. Let them know that you are a Farm Bureau member and that you support stronger surface owner protections than those endorsed by the state leadership.

Excerpt from Farm Bureau Policy #103 Private Property Rights

…A significant number of landowners have split estates, not owning their minerals. Therefore, Farm Bureau urges the Legislature to enact appropriate legislation to address issues identified by our membership. We recommend legislation that will require those drilling and/or operating oil and gas fields – both shallow and deep, including storage fields – to pay to the owner of the surface a yearly fee for each producing well and/or capped well and/or storage areas and for all environmental damage. …

…Furthermore, we believe compensation to the landowner for damage sustained from drilling or transport should be based on actual losses versus a set fee.  In order to accomplish this, we support:

a)Giving a 90-day notification to the landowner before any surface operations begin
b)Compensation for timber at current market value
c)Compensation for pasture and crops
d)Returning soil and nutrients to at least the previous level of production
e)Replenishing water sources in both quantity and quality
f)Replacing an/or repairing fences and roads
g)Providing free gas to surface owners

(NOTE: WVFB has not yet posted its 2010 Policy Book on its website, however Policy #89 Mineral Leases and Operation, in it's 2009 Policy Book contains similar language.)

Summary of HB 4566

The bill requires all deeds to say whether or not minerals are being conveyed in a deed.
    •It does NOT require the deed to say that the mineral owner has rights to use the surface land.
    •It does not require disclosure in sales contracts.

The bill requires 15 days actual notice to the landowner before a driller comes on to the land.  The notice can be a telephone conversation, or certified mail. 
    •This notice does NOT require the surface owner to get copies of any statutes.
    •This notice does NOT require the driller to tell the surface owner where the driller intends to put the well or the access road, or where he intends to get or dispose of water, or any of the driller’s other plans.
The bill does NOT require or give any incentive to negotiate with the surface owner and does NOT have a penalty for non-compliance.

The bill extends the time to comment on the driller’s permit application from 15 days to 30 days.
    •The surface owner still cannot comment on where the road and well site will be located; the surface owner can only comment on HOW they will be constructed.

The bill allows the surface owner to redeem from tax sale any minerals under their land, but does NOT provide any notice to the surface owner of the sale, so the surface owner will not know of the sale unless the surface owner knows the name of the mineral owner and sees that name in the paper.

The bill provides that the surface owner gets to keep any timber cut down and gets twice its appraised value.

The bill requires secondary roads to be inspected before and after use by a driller for damage, and that the driller pay to fix the roads.

The bill requires the operator to give the surface owner a contact name, address, telephone number and e-mail address of a contact person. The bill also requires the operator to be liable for all actions of the operators contractors and subcontractors which would already be the case.

The bill does not have a penalty for non-compliance.

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