The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed a controversial bill dealing with landowner and mineral rights.
House Bill 4268 would require -- in the case of seven or more landowners of a single tract of land -- the approval of 75 percent of owners to allow natural gas drilling on the property.
The bill passed on a 60-40 vote after more than an hour and a half of debate.
Supporters said the measure is key to further development of the natural gas industry in West Virginia.
"The passage of this legislation will allow us to, in my opinion, increase the production -- which will increase the wealth the citizens and the mineral owners of this state -- which will increase the tax revenue of our state, allowing us to better deal with the problems facing our state," said Del. Bill Anderson, the lead sponsor of the bill.
Democrats -- and some Republicans who opposed the bill -- argued the legislation forces non-consenting landowners to allow drilling when it is unwanted.
"Now I've heard a lot of people here yell and scream, 'How can just a handful of people hold up development?' Because it's their land. It's a constitutional right to hold land," Del. Issac Sponaugle said.
Sponaugle went on to argue that legal arrangements can already be made to transfer ownership to those who would want to authorize drilling through partitions suits. He and other Democrats like Del.Joe Canestrano acknowledged the bill's history in the Legislature in recent sessions.
"You can call this bill whatever you want. Co-tenancy, lease integration, joint development, forced pooling. What it really is -- it's a watered down version of the bill that was defeated on this floor in 2015," Canestrano said.
"Instead of pitting neighbor against neighbor -- like you all did that here in '15 -- now you're just going to pit brother against brother on one parcel of property," he added.
An amendment to the bill Wednesday would place revenues from unknown or unlocatable owners in a stability fund for PEIA if those owners could not be found in seven years. The other half would go to an oil and gas reclamation fund.
The bill now heads to the Senate.