Daily Mail Editorial | The Charleston Gazette Mail | February 1, 2018
As we all know, the best solution to West Virginia’s many problems is economic growth. Jobs and increased revenue can go a long way toward reducing the severity of issues facing the state ranging from the drug epidemic to low teacher pay.
Yet West Virginia continues to get in its own way when it comes to preventing growth.
Oil and gas drilling is a good example of how old laws, old rules and old ways of thinking are keeping West Virginia from realizing much of its economic potential.
In 2008, West Virginia was the No. 1 state for natural gas drilling in Appalachia, drilling twice as many wells as Ohio and Pennsylvania combined, Charlie Burd, executive director of the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association, told reporters at the West Virginia Press Association’s annual legislative breakfast Thursday.
But that leadership changed quickly as Marcellus Shale drilling took off, with Pennsylvania taking the lead, and now twice as many rigs are drilling in Ohio than West Virginia.
Why the difference? “Pennsylvania and Ohio’s regulatory climates have adapted to the new technology,” explained West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Executive Director Anne Blankenship. “West Virginia’s has not.”
For West Virginia to pull itself out of last place in so many economic measures, lawmakers and others must show a continued sense of urgency. With a quick to adapt government aiding an improved economy, solutions to other problems will follow.
Perhaps the one bill before the Legislature in the 2018 session that can do more for investment, job growth and revenue growth is House Bill 4268, the co-tenancy bill.
As introduced, the co-tenancy bill would allow natural gas drilling to take place as long as 75 percent of mineral owners on a tract of land approves.
West Virginia is an outlier under current law because a single owner’s objection, even when a 99 percent majority agree, can keep a prolific tract from being drilled. In turn, that prevents possibly millions of dollars in revenue from going to school districts, county and state tax coffers and royalty owners, many of whom are average West Virginians.
Some say allowing co-tenancy would be a taking of property, but isn’t allowing a single — or absent — mineral owner to stop the development for 99 others taking that majority’s rights?
Lots of oil and gas investment — as in the kind that brings jobs and revenue — is on hold until the state solves its co-tenancy issue.
Legislators have a good bill in front of them, one that drillers, mineral owners and surface owners -- with some amendments -- say they can live with.
Legislators need to finalize and pass the co-tenancy bill and remove one of the state's strongest impediments to progress.