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Senate panel approves royalty bills (again)

Been there, done that. The state Senate approves bills aimed at helping royalty owners, almost two years after the measures stalled in the House.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Been there, done that. The state Senate approves bills aimed at helping royalty owners, almost two years after the measures stalled in the House.

It felt a bit like déjà vu in Harrisburg Tuesday, as a state Senate committee unanimously approved a pair of bills aimed at providing more protections for people who receive royalty money from oil and gas drilling.

The vote comes almost exactly two years after the same committee approved nearly identical bills, which were then passed by the full Senate. Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) is the prime sponsor. He says neither measure is controversial and blames his colleagues in the House for the yearslong delay.

“They should go through, and could be immediately available to help people,” says Yaw.

One of Yaw’s bills gives landowners the ability to inspect gas companies’ records, to verify proper payment. The other prohibits drillers from retaliating against people who question their royalty payments. They were introduced several years ago, amid complaints some gas companies are cheating landowners out of money.

Yaw says the House has tried to package his measures with a much more controversial piece of legislation, which has been kicking around that chamber for years. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers wants to limit the ability of oil and gas companies to charge landowners the fees associated with processing and transporting gas. A number of landowners have complained some drillers are engaged in fraud, and charge exorbitant fees– leaving them with little to no royalty money.

Jackie Root heads the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO-PA), which has been lobbying for changes to the state’s royalty laws. She says they’ve been having a good dialogue about Yaw’s bills.

“We’re happy we’re seeing some royalty accounting standards being introduced,” says Root. “We’re having input, and I think that’s a big step for us.”

NARO-PA’s main focus for years has been on the more controversial House royalty legislation. Rep. Garth Everett (R- Lycoming) has been the champion of that bill, and says he plans to reintroduce it again this session. The gas industry has lobbied against Everett’s bills, arguing they would unconstitutionally alter the terms of contracts.

The gas trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, has not taken a position on Yaw’s bills.

“That said, we look forward to continuing to work with policymakers and our royalty owner partners on workable, common sense solutions that fully reflect the issue’s complexities along with the need to encourage investment in the Commonwealth,” says coalition spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright.

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