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Pa. House bill would let drillers pool land

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By Timothy Puko
Saturday, June 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

The state House passed a bill Friday evening that would make it easier for drilling companies to pool land into drilling units, angering some advocates who believe it undercuts landowners' rights.

The bill could have its biggest effect in Western Pennsylvania, where many people hold oil and gas leases signed decades before the shale drilling boom, experts said. They can often try to block drilling or negotiate better terms because their contracts don't expressly allow the land to be combined into the bigger units common in horizontal drilling.

The bill instead would give drilling companies the right to pool that land unless the old contracts expressly forbid it, which they usually don't, experts said.

“This is like stabbing us in the back,” said Jackie Root, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners. “There should be an opportunity for those mineral owners to negotiate ... and this is going to completely take that opportunity away.”

The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee — without opposition — passed the provision on Tuesday as an amendment to a bill largely about the rights of royalty recipients. Its sponsor, Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming County, could not be reached for comment. It does have support, including a 167-33 House floor vote on Friday and from Gov. Tom Corbett's administration.

Corbett's energy executive, Patrick Henderson, said he disagreed with Root and several lawyers who said it could undercut the rights of landowners.

Anybody who tries to renegotiate or block drilling runs the risk of drilling companies putting wells directly on their property to meet terms of the old lease, Henderson said. The provision will encourage efficient, horizontal drilling by smoothing the way for companies to create larger units, he said.

“I would disagree with the assertion that landowners are going to see the short end on this,” Henderson added. “The governor would not be supportive of something that would change the ability of landowners to fairly negotiate for their property rights.”

The bill will now go back to the Senate, where it started.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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