The West Virginia Legislature’s House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would make several changes to the state’s regulation of Marcellus Shale drilling, including instituting dramatic increases to horizontal permitting fees to fund a larger staff at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

A vote on the Hydraulic Fracturing and Horizontal Drilling Gas Act (HB 2878) had been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon but was postponed to give counsel to the committee time to review amendments made by a subcommittee, according to Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley (D-Harrison). A similar bill (SB 258) is working its way through the West Virginia Senate.

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 House bill by a subcommittee earlier this week.

“The legislature finds that it is inherently unfair to force a surface owner or a fee simple owner to allow, without his or her consent, the construction and operation of a well pad for a horizontal shallow well unit,” according to a draft of the bill passed by the subcommittee. “Therefore, the legislature declares it against public policy to authorize a well pad to be constructed on the surface of a property contained in a pooled unit without the surface owner’s consent.”

The bill is an amalgam of language drawn from other proposed legislation, including DEP’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). DEP has asked legislators to increase to 66 the number of oil and gas inspectors and permits handlers on its payroll from the current 32. The DEP bill would also allow forced pooling (see Shale Daily, Feb. 1).

Another bill, drafted by a joint judiciary subcommittee, focuses on regulating hydraulic fracturing operations and horizontal drilling (see Shale Daily, Jan. 24). A provision on pooling was pulled from that bill during subcommittee meetings.

But with a Sunday deadline for bills to be reported out of committee looming, Miley on Tuesday said the legislature is unlikely to pass the bill during the current session, according to the Charleston Daily Mail. A scaled-back version of the bill could be passed before the session’s scheduled March 12 closing, or the larger bill could be taken up again during a special session later this year, he told the newspaper. Miley is one of nine sponsors of the House bill, which would move on to the Finance Committee if voted out of the Judiciary Committee.