Capitol dome

CHARLESTON — Co-tenancy, which allows the development of oil and natural gas resources across adjoining properties as long as three-fourths of property owners agree, moved out of the House of Delegates Thursday by a 60-40 vote.

The bill also creates a fund to hold interests owned by unknown or unlocatable owners. If unclaimed after seven years, the property is transferred to the Oil and Gas reclamation Fund.

An amendment offered Wednesday by Delegate Phil Isner, D-Randolph, would split fund proceeds evenly between the reclamation of abandoned gas wells and the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Under the original version of the bill, money only went toward plugging of abandoned oil and gas wells.

Another amendment adopted Wednesday would set a minimum number of owners at seven before the 75 percent threshold kicks in.

During the 90-minute debate, Republicans said a minority of owners should not be able to have influence over the majority and argued the bill would spur economic development.

Democrats, however, were concerned about property rights of the minority and that the bill values corporations over residents.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said he believes the bill will spur economic growth. He also argued that the majority of owners should be considered.

“Who is protecting the rights of those people in the 75 percent? Who is protecting those rights? Don't they have property rights, too? We're talking about taking rights,” Shott said. “Isn't it effective to to deny someone's right to use something — isn't that the same as taking?”

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said, “I believe this is a flat out assault on property rights in the state of West Virginia.” His thought is the bill legislates how the owner of certain property would use that piece of property.

“People are tired of having their rights stomped down whether it's corporations or industry,” Sponaugle said. “They're tired of it. We need to stand for the rights of individuals, not just close our eyes for economic development depriving a person's constitutional rights.”

Both Democrats and Republicans commented on Isner's amendment to provide for PEIA. Some Democrats said although they like a potential funding stream for PEIA, it didn't change their opinion on the overall bill.

“I voted for that amendment,” Lincoln County Delegate Jeff Eldridge said. “It made a bad bill better, but it doesn't mean I have to vote for this bill.”

Republican Cabell County Delegate Matthew Rohrbach spoke in favor of the bill, saying one person shouldn't be able to deny all other owners' right to develop property. He also spoke of the PEIA amendment.

“The amendment to put the PEIA amendment in is good,” Rohrbach said. “It's not a fix. We don't know how much money will be derived and the soonest it can be derived is seven years. But it's more like a bonus.”

The bill now heads to the Senate.

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