Liz McCormick Published

Forced Pooling Resurfaces in W.Va. Legislature


Two bills that both died on the final night of the 2015 legislative session, resurfaced Monday during interim meetings – forced pooling and public charter schools. Both ideas erupted in debate in 2015, but Monday’s discussions were calm and reflective – but not without some concerns.

The separate discussions Monday on forced pooling and charter schools were mostly on how to make these controversial pieces of legislation work for lawmakers and interested parties on both sides of the issues.

First, forced pooling –

Delegate Woody Ireland chairs the House Energy Committee and sponsored the forced pooling legislation during the 2015 session. He told his fellow lawmakers Monday they must do something about pooling, even if they don’t all agree.

Forced pooling works like this – When companies prepare to drill a well, they create a giant rectangle of land parcels and then negotiate with the mineral owners within that rectangle for their gas rights.

The 2015 bill would have allowed companies to force owners to sell their minerals if they could get 80 percent of the owners in their parcel to agree to the drilling. However, the 20 percent forced to sell would still get paid for their proportion of gas drilled.

Democrats and some tea party Republicans were strongly against the bill, even showing their discontent through demonstrations on the floor. On the final night, the bill died on a tie vote in the House.

Now, Delegate Ireland has proposed a new pooling bill.

“With the passage of this bill, it would create a lot of land owner protections that currently aren’t available,” explained Seth Gaskins, counsel to the committees on Energy, “and the new title for the bill is the Horizontal Well Unitization of Landowner Protection Act. We wanted to make sure that this bill is known as a protection bill as well as a pooling bill.”

One aspect of this new bill would clarify the royalty rights of mineral owners. It would protect owners from deductions if they are included in a pool without their consent.

But there’s more – Ireland is also proposing what he calls a companion bill to compliment the Horizontal Well Unitization of Landowner Protection Act.

“This bill attempts to create some transparency,” Gaskins said, “in the royalty payment process as well as institute or establish rather, reporting more frequent report of production…reporting of production data to the office of oil and gas.”

While there was little debate during the meeting, a couple lawmakers did express some concern over the two new draft bills, but Ireland says the legislature has to make pooling a priority.

“I think what we have currently is an opportunity to really improve on personal property rights,” Ireland said, “If you look at the statutes that includes forced pooling from the deep strata, and you look at what’s going on in the industry with a movement towards the Utica shale, which is a deep strata, so if we don’t do something, we basically have forced pooling already.”

The second controversial piece of legislation taken up during November interims Monday – public charter schools.

The 2015 bill on charter schools also died on the final night but not quite as loudly as forced pooling.

Public Charter Schools receive state and county funds just like regular public schools, but charter schools are not held to the same regulations as regular public schools. This in turn would give teachers at charter schools more flexibility in the way they deliver their curriculum, but they would still be subject to state education standards.

Lawmakers in the Joint Standing Committee on Education revisited the idea Monday and were presented statistics that showed increased test scores and creativity. Other studies, however, show charter schools do not increase student achievement and actually hurt low income and minority students. But Monday, lawmakers were presented with a new concern; lower rates of pay for educators.

“I’d say our teacher with twenty-eight years experience all-together is probably gonna make $38,000 and the teacher at the traditional public school is probably gonna make $58,000,” Susie Pierce said, the principal of the Rural Community Academy; a charter school in Graysville, Indiana.

Some lawmakers expressed concerns over how to attract and keep teachers in charter schools if they’re going to be paid less than traditional public school teachers.

Delegate Amanda Pasdon, a Co-Chair on the Joint Education Committee, says she’s looking forward to continuing the discussion in 2016.

“I’m glad that they were honest about their challenges,” Pasdon noted, “because what we’d like to do in West Virginia is take note of the challenges that other states have faced. We’re not reinventing the wheel, so we can learn from their successes and then also be aware of their challenges, so we know how to navigate them a little better.”