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Streamlined Marcellus Bills Advance in West Virginia Legislature

February 28, 2011
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Bills that would change West Virginia's regulation of Marcellus Shale drilling -- stripped of forced pooling language and proposing smaller increases to horizontal permitting fees than previously considered -- were passed Thursday by House and Senate committees in the state's legislature in Charleston.

"We're going to try to get a Marcellus bill out that deals with Marcellus issues but won't be as comprehensive as originally hoped and planned," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley (D-Harrison) said prior to his committee's approval of the Hydraulic Fracturing and Horizontal Drilling Gas Act (HB 2878). "But we feel that it's better to get some bill out that deals with some of the concerns out there faced by our state and our constituents as opposed to not getting any bill out."

The House vote was delayed several times Wednesday and Thursday to give counsel to the committee time to review amendments made by a subcommittee (see Shale Daily, Feb. 24). Language that would have implemented forced pooling, which would require landowner leases to be combined into a common pool under one drilling production company and using one common underground geological reservoir, was removed from the bill by a subcommittee earlier in the week.

The bill is an amalgam of language drawn from other proposed legislation, including the Department of Environmental Protection's proposal to enlarge its staff to handle about 750 active wells and increase horizontal drilling permit fees to $10,000 from the current $650 that all drillers pay (see Shale Daily, Feb. 11). But the streamlined version of the bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee would not change permit fees. It would require drillers to notify property owners of drilling activity 30 days in advance instead of the current 15 days and would not allow wells within 1,000 feet of homes or water wells without a property owner's consent.

The bill must still be approved by the Finance Committee before moving to the House floor.

Also late Thursday, the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee passed a bill (SB 424) that would increase horizontal drilling permit fees to $5,000 from the current $650. Forced pooling language was also removed from the bill.

Like the House bill, SB 424 must be approved by the chamber's Finance Committee before being considered by the full Senate.

The deadline for bills to be reported out of committee is Sunday (Feb. 27); crossover day, when bills must be passed by each chamber in order to be taken up by the other, is Wednesday.

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