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West Virginia Senate Votes Down Pipeline Survey Bill

The West Virginia Senate on Monday rejected a bill that would have given natural gas companies the right to survey on private property without the owner’s consent.

The bill, SB 596, was voted down 23-11 by the Republican-controlled senate Monday. It was sponsored by Republicans Mitch Carmichael and Chris Walters.

SB 596 proposed giving natural gas companies right of entry upon private property “without permission of the owner or owners in order to make examinations, inspections, studies, tests, hand auger borings, hand excavations, appraisals and surveys.” The bill would have only applied to projects regulated under the federal Natural Gas Act. It would have required notice to be given and for companies to reimburse property owners for any damage resulting from survey work.

The bill is similar to a Virginia state law passed in 2004 that has come under scrutiny from opponents to two high-profile interstate pipeline projects planning to cross through counties in West Virginia and Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

A spokesman for ACP told NGI last month that the company has been working through a number of court cases in Virginia seeking to survey in instances where property owners have refused access (see Daily GPI, Feb. 4).

Both ACP and MVP filed applications with FERC last year (see Daily GPI, Oct. 23, 2015; Sept. 18, 2015).

The West Virginia pipeline survey bill comes after a Monroe County, WV, judge ruled last year against MVP in a case filed by the landowners after the company had been denied access to survey on private property. The judge ruled that MVP would not serve a public use under West Virginia law and thus denied permission to survey for the project.

On Tuesday, MVP spokeswoman Natalie Cox told NGI that the company was “disappointed in the judge’s ruling as we believe projects such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline will provide significant public benefit to West Virginians.” She pointed to the pipeline’s economic benefits during construction and long-term tax revenue increases, among other things.

The proposed West Virginia pipeline survey bill would have provided a clearer path for companies to conduct necessary surveys in a timely manner, according to Cox, making Monday’s state senate vote “certainly disappointing.”

“West Virginia has benefited from increased Marcellus drilling activity -- generating tax revenues and other economic benefits for the state. Landowners have received millions of dollars in royalty payments from producers, which filters back into the state’s economy,” Cox said. “The natural gas that West Virginia is producing needs additional pipeline infrastructure for transporting to market -- without this required infrastructure, producers will need to reduce natural gas production, which will in turn decrease the tax revenue from which the state has benefited for the past five to seven years. And in order to build new infrastructure, survey work is critical.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could provide conditional approval for MVP to move forward, in turn allowing the project “to proceed with property surveying without the consent of the landowner,” Cox said, adding that proper surveying is in the best interest of all stakeholders.

Cox said she was not aware of any other cases in West Virginia where landowners had refused to allow MVP to survey. The company has conducted approximately 80% of the environmental survey work needed for the project, which is expecting a draft environmental impact statement from FERC in May or June, she said.

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