The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 3, 2013

Haluska: Measure may have ‘gotten lost in shuffle’

John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG — Language allowing natural gas companies to merge lease agreements was tacked into a bill that was primarily directed toward mandating greater transparency in the way gas companies deduct from payments to landowners. As a result, the measure passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate.

“The environmental community has been dealing with these kind of bait and switches for years. Now landowners are getting a taste of it,” said Jeff Schmidt, chapter director for the Pennsylvania Sierra Club.

“If the gas companies wanted to develop a single well site, they could do that by negotiating with property owners,” Schmidt said.

“But they decided to have the General Assembly take away the right of property owners to negotiate.”

Dale Tice, an attorney specializing in gas drill­ing issues, said he believes that many lawmakers simply didn’t understand what the controversial passage in Senate Bill 259 does.

State Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, said Democrats have opposed “forced pooling.”

Opponents have argued that the law created a form of forced pooling, a tactic in which a property can be targeted for drilling regardless of the wishes of the owner if most neighboring properties allow drilling. Senate Bill 259 deals only with properties that already have leases in place for conventional drilling, so proponents have argued that the law stops short of allowing forced pooling in Pennsylvania.

But the concerns about the legislation may not have been abundantly clear to all lawmakers as the vote took place on the Friday of the final weekend of the budget year.

“It may have gotten lost in the shuffle,” Haluska said.

The bill passed 167-33 in the House. On June 30, the Senate voted 48-2 to concur on the House version of the bill..