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House approves Senate bill to raise money to provide more well inspectors for Office of Oil and Gas

MORGANTOWN – The House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a Senate bill to raise money for the underfunded and understaffed Office of Oil and Gas, which is responsible for inspecting gas wells across the state.

SB 404 will impose a $2,500 per well fee on gas producers that apply to modify horizontal well permits. It’s expected to raise about $500,000 per year.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, had led several efforts to raise money for the office and said, “I think this is a very good bill.”

The office, he said, has about a $1.3 million annual deficit and this won’t get it all the way, so he hopes they can find other ways to help it raise money.

Energy chair John Anderson, R-Wood, said, “It is a beginning salvo to attempt to get that office funded. … It’s not what they need to maintain the inspection program I would like to see.”

As previously reported, OO&G relies entirely on permit fees to conduct its operations. Severe cutbacks in oil and gas production, due partially to the pandemic, had led to a severe income drop for the office, which is part of the Department of Environmental Protection.

OO&G revenue was $3.4 million in Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018, $3.3 million in FY 2019, only $1.6 million in FY 2020. This led to downsizing staff from 40 to 25. OO&G now has just one inspector per 7,000 wells.

Hansen is lead sponsor of a bill, HB 2725, that would impose a $100 annual fee on all active wells not exclusively providing free gas for homes. That bill is sitting in House Energy.

The vote on SB 404 was 77-22. All the opposition came from Republicans. All local delegates voted yes except Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor.

The bill goes back to the Senate for concurrence on an amendment to the bill’s title.

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