March 26, 2010
Legislative Wrap-Up: Disappointing Session on Surface Owner Issues
Although we most of the good oil and gas legislation we were hoping to see passed this legislative session -- including our Surface Owners' Rights Recognition Act -- died, the good news is we managed to at least break even. You may recall from our last few updates that there were two bills – one good, one bad –we were following going into the last week of the session.
Just to refresh your memory, the Senate passed SB 369, which would have changed the definition of a "shallow well" so that it applies to many vertical Marcellus Shale wells. This terrible bill would have essentially legalized stealing of gas from neighboring mineral owners.
On the positive side, the House passed, HB 4513 establishing additional requirements for the drilling and fracturing of Marcellus Shale gas wells. These requirements are needed to protect rivers and streams from becoming dewatered by stream withdrawals or contaminated by disposal of wastewater produced in the drilling and fracturing process. The bill also contained regulations requiring identification of the contents of fracing fluids and tracking the disposal of those fluids.
Here’s how things played out during that final week:
The House Judiciary Committee essentially held SB 369 hostage in order to encourage the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining (EIM) Committee to act on HB 4513. However, in an unfortunate turn of events EIM amended the provisions of SB 369 into HB 4513. In addition, the committee also weakened important protections for our water resources, specifically a requirement that operators have a plan to maintain minimal instream flows. What started out as a good bill aimed at protecting our water resources, turned into something that neither WV-SORO nor the WV Environmental Council could support.
The bill ended up in a conference committee on the last night of the session. Delegate Tim Manchin (D-Marion), lead sponsor of HB 4513, tried convince the Senate conferees to agree to restore critical language needed to protect our waters. When it became clear no compromise could be reached, HB 4513 died, and SB 369 died along with it.
We'll be putting together a more detailed wrap up on these and other oil and gas issues over the next week or so. We'll let you know when it's available so you can check it out at www.wvsoro.org. In the meantime, please know we appreciate your continued support, dedication and enthusiasm for this issue. We couldn't keep going without YOU. You calls, e-mails and letters, as well as your financial support sustain and enhance our efforts. Thanks for all you do!