Craig Blair is a Senator representing WV State Senate District 15, which covers the counties of Hampshire and Morgan in addition to parts of Berkeley and Mineral. He took over $5,000 from oil and gas interests during his last election, and in 2017, Blair sponsored SB 244 and 245, and additionally sponsored and voted for SB 576.
West Virginia SB 576, introduced toward the end of the 2017 session, was the latest in a series of Forced Pooling bills aimed at allowing large gas companies to take mineral rights from private owners without their consent. A slightly watered-down version of earlier SB 244, it contained two especially threatening provisions to West Virginia’s citizens.
One was called “lease integration” by the authors, but dubbed “invisible ink” by many of the citizens’ rights groups fighting it. This provision would have allowed gas companies to forcibly pool old leases that were written before the age of pooling into a single drilling unit at the lowest possible rate allowed by law, well below what modern contracts often offer, all without the owners’ consent.
The second provision was the latest rebranding of Forced Pooling, now labeled under the name “Co-Tenancy”. This would have allowed minority owners of minerals, even the minerals under their own land, to be forced to allow extraction of those minerals if the other owners agreed. It would have allowed the government to directly force West Virginia citizens to sell their property to gas companies who wanted to develop it.
SB 245 – Right To Trespass
SB 245 was a 2017 bill whose intent was clearly spelled out on the West Virginia Legislature’s own website as “Permitting natural gas companies enter private property without prior consent of owner.” A clear violation of the most basic principles of privacy and ownership, it was aimed at permitting largely out of state to ignore state trespass laws, and to strip West Virginia landowners of their right to determine who entered into their own farms, fields, and front yards.