Gov. Jim Justice joined energy workers from across West Virginia for a rally at the Capitol Tuesday morning to promote the natural gas industry in the state.
In vague terms, Justice seemed to lend his support to legislation that lawmakers have been unable to get through the legislative process over the past several years-- forced pooling.
A similar measure, however, has resurfaced in the Senate's Judiciary Committee.
The rally was sponsored by the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and drew hundreds of oil and gas workers.
“Here you are, wanting to go to work aren’t you?" Gov. Justice said addressing the crowd. "Wanting to develop a resource that God has given us in West Virginia to create thousands of jobs and do lots and lots and lots of goodness. Now, I commend you and I will not hinder, I will not stand in your way.”
Justice said he understands that the industry needs co-tenancy and joint development laws in order to continue to develop in the state’s shale plays and create more jobs.
Those terms, co-tenancy and joint development, are industry terms used that reference certain practices employed during horizontal drilling, or fracking, for natural gas.
Co-tenancy would allow companies to drill a well and drain the gas in a given area if the owners of 51 percent of the mineral rights agree to the drilling. Joint development would allow companies to drill on the land next to owners who have agreed to lease their minerals.
The two practices are not forced pooling, according to the state’s oil and natural gas association, but Justice says he knows they’re necessary to increase drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions.
Lawmakers have considered several pieces of similar legislation at the statehouse since 2015, and each year, those bill have failed to make it through the process. Democrats and members of the Republican Liberty caucus argue those practices constitute a taking of personal property for private gain.
“Now, I know that you’re not wanting to take something away from anybody," Justice said, who disagrees with lawmakers who oppose the issue, "but sometimes it becomes an effort that is absolutely worthless because you’re trying to track down landowners that have 15 lost cousin Eddies and you can’t find them."
The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently taking up similar legislation and has spent hours so far discussing its implications. The bill would have to be approved before cross over day on March 29, the final day for lawmakers to approve bills in their originating chambers.
Justice repeated that he stands ready to help perpetuate the industry in any way he can, but he also presented the crowd with his plan to increase taxes in order to balance the 2018 budget and asked for their support as well.
“I need you. I need you. I need you to let your voice be heard not just right here, but in these people’s offices and tell them to get off their hind end and do the right thing,” he said.