Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fellow GOPers criticize W.Va. governor for pushing gas-drilling bill that landowners and mineral owners oppose

Legislators of both parties have criticized Republican Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia for proposing a special session on natural-gas issues and dangling a resolution of the statewide teachers' strike as a carrot. "Justice advocated for killing a co-tenancy drilling bill that has already passed the House, for backing a controversial joint-development bill and for raising severance tax," Brad McElhinny reports for West Virginia MetroNews. "That, the governor said, would raise enough revenue to increase teacher salaries and shore up the Public Employees Insurance Agency."

Under the widely supported co-tenancy bill, if a tract has seven or more mineral-rights holders, drilling would require need permission from 75 percent of them. The much more controversial joint-development bill would allow drillers with old leases (created before horizontal hydraulic fracturing was developed) to drill wells across some individual property lines without signing a new lease, as long as the driller already owns the leases on all adjoining properties. The issues are important in a state that has many tracts still divided among heirs.

House Speaker Tim Armistead, a Republican, criticized Justice for trying to pass joint development when it can't get enough votes, as well as his attempts to use the teachers' strike as leverage. When Justice tweeted "I believe there is a chance of your PEIA being fixed permanently by a severance tax on oil and gas if we have a special session," House Democratic Leader Tim Miley tweeted back: "There were bills introduced during the legislative session to do just that. What makes you think it will be accomplished in a special session when the bills didn't even make it on any agenda during the regular session?"

Other Republican delegates joined the speaker in rebuking Justice. John Kelly, vice-chairman of the House Energy Committee, said "Joint development is a program that has no chance of passage in the House of Delegates. It’s failed every year since I’ve been here and I believe it’s going to continue to fail." Bill Anderson, chairman of the House Energy Committee, said joint development won't pass the House, but "co-tenancy has the horsepower to pass this year."

Justice has also been called out by organizations representing land and mineral-rights owners that have worked on the co-tenancy bill, which has passed the House and is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Some of Justice's detractors have pointed fingers at one of his top advisers, Bray Cary, who is a director of gas-pipeline company EQT. Cary works on a volunteer basis and says he has stayed away from gas issues.

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