Dear Editor, land and mineral owners:
EQT flexed their political muscle at the Senate Judiciary meeting concerning SB244. We need to be loud and clear of our opposition to this bill and the effect it will have on West Virginia mineral owners. It allows for a simple majority, 50.1 percent of “co-tenants” to sign a lease for all tenants. This is the unfair taking of our rights and benefits of private property. It gives the industry immunity to law suits from the other 49.9 percent of the owners of a tract. Well trained land men will prey on the most vulnerable co-tenants and the remainder will not be able to negotiate terms on their property. The excuse the industry is using for this bill is unknown owners are holding up production. That is a lie! West Virginia has a code that allows production if there are unknown owners, the royalties are held in escrow for seven years then go to the surface owner. SB244 is FORCED POOLING ON STEROIDS!
SB245 and companion bill HB2688, the right to trespass bill, allows gas industry surveyors to trespass on private property without permission. The law overturns a court ruling in favor of landowners. The industry will use their political power and “we are above the law” attitude to bully West Virginia landowners. The industry does not like losing in court so they go to our law makers and get the law changed the way they want it. Landowners have a right to include or exclude people on our property including private companies.
Landowners and their insurers are liable for these legal trespassers while on their property.
A big win for mineral owners in the Supreme Court was a ruling that companies must pay a full 1/8 royalty. The gas industry has been taking deductions out of royalty checks for various reasons, such as enhancement fees, transportation fees, etc. Some royalty owners are getting negative balances on their statements. EQT upset with the Supreme Court loss waited until their “bought and paid for” Justice Beth Walker was sworn in and then ask the court to rule again, which the court agreed. Justice Walker had five million dollars in outside group’s spending money to get her elected. She should recuse herself from hearing the case.
The small mineral owner in West Virginia will spend the money in West Virginia they earn from production. Why let these out of state corporations steal from our citizens to send the money to out of state investors? Are we going to let another natural resource be stolen from us? When are we going to say, “We are tired of our state being 50th.”
Large campaign contributions have given the industry a sense of entitlement this session. Senator Mitch Carmichael is trying to deliver these bills as a gift to the industry.
Call House and Senate members and let them know there is strong opposition to these bills. Call our Governor that promised to bring our economy out of 50th place, and ask him how he plans to do that by taking our private property rights and giving them to out of state corporations. I believe we have been down that road with coal. There was a statement made that voters have short memories. We have a fight ahead of us in a non-election year. Let’s not give up, take time to make your voice heard in opposition of these bills.
Also, tell lawmakers to do their job. West Virginia has a budget crisis. We can’t cut our way out of this mess. Last year there was a special session at the cost of tax payers to put a temporary patch on the budget. We are going down the same path this year. Governor Justice proposed tax hikes, nobody likes the thought of taxes, but the state has to operate. Legislative leadership needs to work with the governor and fix the budget. Why are we dealing with pooling when land and mineral owners made their opposition clear the last two years? We need a budget that doesn’t put all the taxes on small business and W.Va. citizens. These billion dollar gas industries hedged their prices and are not suffering financially. If they were financially strapped they could not afford the army of professional lobbyists trying to take our property rights. They also could not afford the millions they donate to political campaigns. A flat nickel tax per mcf of gas would go a long way balancing the state’s budget. The industry would not be hurt by this tax as much as a family working for minimum wage would be harmed financially by a .10 cent a gallon tax on gasoline.
Tell lawmakers the budget needs fixed this session and leave private property owners alone. The natural gas industry needs to negotiate with property owners and quit trying to buy our legislators.
Lost Creek, W.Va.