Guest Post: Bradford Co Landowner Asks Gov. Wolf to Support HB 1684

MDN has written plenty about Pennsylvania’s HB 1684–the Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act (see these MDN articles). In essence, some companies (cough *Chesapeake Energy* cough) have gotten creative with deducting post-production costs from royalty checks. According to the PA Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act of 1979, royalty owners (landowners) must receive no less than 1/8, or 12.5%, by law. But when Chessy and others start deducting this and that, never spelled out in the original lease agreement, landowners are getting the shaft–way lower than 12.5%. In some cases they get royalty checks for a few dollars! Bradford County landowner John Williams is concerned, both about HB 1684 and newly elected Gov. Tom Wolf’s stand on that bill, and about Wolf’s proposed 5% severance tax. Will the severance tax be the next deduction gas companies take, further reducing royalty checks? Is the severance tax Tom Wolf proposes a tax that will be paid, in essence, by landowners? We thank John for his guest post…
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Status Report on PA Royalty Bill HB 1684 – Recess Limbo

As MDN told you three weeks ago, Pennsylvania House Bill (HB) 1684 has hit some turbulence on its way to quick passage (see PA HB 1684 Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act Hits a Snag). The bill, as originally introduced, was supported by the PA chapter of the National Royalty Owner’s Association and would provide for landowners to receive a minimum 12.5% in royalties, disallowing some of the shenanigans Chesapeake Energy has engaged in with reducing post-production expenses via a back door (see PA NARO Alert: Tell Your State Rep to Vote YES on HB 1684).

But along the way the drilling industry objected–rather loudly–saying lease contracts signed by two parties, the landowner and the driller, should not be modified by the legislature (see Rare Schism Between Landowners & Drillers over PA Royalty Law). Since the original bill, a number of amendments have been proposed, one of them that may well get adopted, that would fundamentally gut the intention of the bill to provide a minimum 12.5%. Lawmakers debated HB 1684 and amendments last week–before adjourning and heading out of town for a 3-week recess (wish we had a 3-week vacation whenever we wanted!). Here’s a status report and update on what happened last week and where things now stand with HB 1684…
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PA HB 1684 Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act Hits a Snag

For nearly a month, the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) Pennsylvania Chapter has been pushing for passage of House Bill (HB) 1684, the Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act (see PA NARO Alert: Tell Your State Rep to Vote YES on HB 1684). HB 1684 would ensure landowners get a minimum 12.5% in royalty payments from drillers. This is in response to alleged rumors that Chesapeake Energy has been screwing landowners by deducting transportation and other costs in a somewhat underhanded way. HB 1684 is supposed to stop that–going forward.

However, HB 1684 has “hit a snag” according state Rep. Matt Baker. As MDN has previously noted, this particular bill has divided landowners and drillers, something we don’t see often (see Rare Schism Between Landowners & Drillers over PA Royalty Law). The latest on the fate of HB 1684:
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PA NARO Alert: Tell Your State Rep to Vote YES on HB 1684

The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) sent out a flash alert email yesterday asking members to contact their state representatives to encourage a “yes” vote on House Bill (HB) 1684–the Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act. This bill is partially in response to the apparent gouging Chesapeake Energy has done with respect to royalty payments. A vote may come as early as TODAY.

Here is the text of the email from PA NARO president Jackie Root:
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PA Landowners, Drillers Fight over HB 1391 Minimum Royalty Bill

Garth Everett
Rep. Garth Everett

It appears that legislation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, House Bill (HB) 1391 that would fix the issue of landowners getting shorted in royalty payments, is about to die. It’s not the first time a bill meant to ensure landowners get a minimum of 12.5% in royalties has died in the PA legislature. Bradford County Commissioners chairman Doug McLinko is blaming the Marcellus Shale Coalition and other drilling industry groups. And he’s not a happy camper. Last June MDN told you about a renewed effort by Pennsylvania State legislators to pass a minimum royalty bill that will guarantee PA’s landowners get at least 12.5% royalties (see New Bill HB 1391 Will Guarantee PA Landowners 12.5% Royalties). HB 1391 is was introduced by State Rep. Garth Everett, a Republican from Lycoming County, PA. Everett said in June the new bill was “narrowed” in focus from a previous bill (that had failed) and because the more narrowed focus, he hoped the Marcellus industry would not oppose it this time around. Everett was dead wrong. As we reported in June, the rift between landowners and drillers on the matter of minimum royalties continues (see Rift Continues Between Drillers & Landowners re Royalty Bill). Due to some hard work by Everett, the bill finally moved out of committee where it had been stalled, and on to the full House for a vote (see Progress: PA Minimum Royalty Bill Heads to Full House for Vote). But now the bill is stalled in the full House and it appears there will not be a vote by the end of the fall session, due to close in another two weeks…
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New Bill HB 1391 Will Guarantee PA Landowners 12.5% Royalties

Last week MDN told you that a new royalty bill would be introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature to guarantee landowners get a minimum 12.5% royalty (see New Bill Pushes 12.5% Guaranteed Minimum Royalty for PA Landowners). The new bill, House Bill (HB) 1391 is, according to the bill’s main sponsor State Rep. Garth Everett, more narrowly focused than the previous bill introduced in 2013 (HB 1684). Gareth and a group of supporters from the PA chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners gathered in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg on Tuesday in a bill launch rally. We don’t (yet) have the language of the new bill, but we do have Everett’s description of what’s in the bill, a brief video interview of Everett from Tuesday’s launch rally, and a newspaper write-up from the event…
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Does PA Royalty Bill 1684 Still Have a Chance This Year?

As MDN wrote back in June, Pennsylvania lawmakers punted on doing anything about House Bill (HB) 1684, what MDN calls the “stop Chesapeake Energy from screwing landowners out of their royalties” bill. We also pointed out, at the time, that it seems pretty likely nothing would get done on that bill for the balance of this year (see PA Royalty Bill 1684 Off the Agenda, Likely for Rest of 2014). We’re sorry to say (so far) we were right. However, MDN received a call from an MDN subscriber (and member of the PA National Association of Royalty Owners, or NARO) to say there’s still a chance–albeit a long shot–that if PA landowners and residents flood their representatives with calls and emails over the next few days before the end of this year’s session, HB 1684 may yet get a vote and go to the governor for a signature…
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PA Royalty Bill 1684 Off the Agenda, Likely for Rest of 2014

Pennsylvania landowners can and should be angry with the Republican-controlled PA House of Representatives. Word has just come that an important royalty bill–HB 1684–is now on the “back burner” until fall. Fall is the height of the election season and you know darned well nothing will get done on the bill at that point–so for all intents the bill is dead for this year. Which is a shame. What is HB 1684? Our shorthand name for the bill is the “stop Chesapeake Energy from screwing landowners out of their royalties” bill…
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Deep Dive: PA Royalties Civil War Between Landowners & Drillers

civil-warFor the past few days MDN has chronicled what we’ve named a royalties civil war happening between Pennsylvania landowners and the Marcellus drilling industry in the state–two groups usually on the same side. The war revolves around royalty checks–and how meager they are (see Righteous Royalty Anger: PA Town Votes to Block Gas Production and Civil War: Bradford PA Escalates Fight with MSC re Royalty Bill). As we’ve previously explained, an oversimplification is landowners maintain that a 1979 PA law guarantees landowners a 12.5% royalty regardless of expenses involved in extracting the gas, and drillers say no, landowners must abide by the contracts they’ve signed and if those contracts allow post-production costs to be deducted before calculating a royalty, the rate may go lower than 12.5%–sometimes to zero and below. Chesapeake Energy is the primary offender, according to landowners. The issue is complex, but at its core is (according to landowners) about fairness. We’ve located two excellent bits of information, one an article, another an email, that explains both sides. The article is from the Houston Harbaugh law firm and does a great job explaining the landowners’ view of the issue, and their desire to pass House Bill (HB) 1391. The email was from the Marcellus Shale Coalition to members of the PA legislature, sent to them last June to explain why, in the opinion of the drilling industry, HB 1391 is unconstitutional and a bad choice. These two views clearly lay out the issues involved so everyone can understand why we are facing a civil war among the ranks…
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New Bill Pushes 12.5% Guaranteed Minimum Royalty for PA Landowners

One of the big disappointments last year, for landowners, was the failure to pass House Bill (HB) 1684 which would clear up language from the Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act of 1979. The GMRA of 1979 says landowners are supposed to get 12.5% minimum in royalties. Chesapeake (perhaps other drillers too) found loopholes and drove a truck through them, claiming marketing and pipeline transportation expenses that they deducted from royalties–leaving some landowners with checks for (literally) a few dollars (see Bradford County, PA Landowners Sue Chesapeake over Royalties). HB 1684 would have cleared up the language and ensured landowners get 12.5% as a minimum–but the bill was met with opposition from the drilling industry (see Rare Schism Between Landowners & Drillers over PA Royalty Law). The bill ultimately failed to get to the floor for a vote. But 2015 is a new year, and PA State Rep. Garth Everett, with the backing of the PA National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO), will introduce a brand new bill next week that is largely a reconstituted HB 1684. So far 35 members have signed on as co-sponsors. Everett and NARO are planning a “bill launch party” in the Capitol Rotunda for next Tuesday, June 23 at 1:30 pm. They want every single landowner who can to show up as a sign of support…
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Bradford County, PA May Join Royalty Lawsuit Against Chesapeake

In 2013, a group of Bradford County, PA landowners joined a lawsuit against Chesapeake Energy over Chessy’s apparent cheating them out of royalties using a ploy to pay high fees for pipelines in return for investments from that pipeline company later on (see Bradford County, PA Landowners Sue Chesapeake over Royalties). Some Bradford landowners were getting royalty checks from Chessy for a few dollars–literally. At issue is a state law that stipulates drillers must pay a minimum of 1/8 of revenue from gas and oil in royalties to the landowner. The controversy comes in that Chesapeake claims their contracts allow them to deduct reasonable expenses, like getting the gas to market, from the total. And with low prices–oh well–those royalty checks go far below 1/8. So what is at issue is how you define 1/8 for the purposes of paying royalties. Is it 1/8 of the gross? Or 1/8 of the net? And what would be allowed to be deducted for the net number? MDN previously told you about PA House Bill (HB) 1684 meant to clear up the confusion. HB 1684 went no where in the legislature last year (see Does PA Royalty Bill 1684 Still Have a Chance This Year?). Looks like the bill will come back around again this year–but before it does, the supervisors of Bradford County, which has land under lease with Chesapeake, are seriously considering joining the lawsuit against Chesapeake. They’re tired of waiting for 1684 to become law and tired of being shorted on their royalties…
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PA Senate Reintroduces Two Marcellus Royalty Bills, SB 147 & 148

The “funny business” of shorting royalty checks in Pennsylvania–particularly by Chesapeake Energy–may soon come to an end. A pair of bills that didn’t make it past the House last session have been re-introduced in the Senate and both have already passed the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee unanimously. State Sen. Gene Yaw, Republican from northeast Pennsylvania, re-introduced Senate Bills (SB) 147 & 148. SB 147 allows landowners the right to review drilling company records to verify proper royalty payment. It also requires drillers to pay royalties within 90 days of production. SB 148 prohibits drillers from “retaliating” against a landowner who questions royalty payments by canceling the lease or stopping drilling activity. Both bills are embraced by the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO)…
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Bad to Worse: PA Royalty Owner Asks Court for Chessy Class Action

from bad to worseChesapeake Energy continues to find itself under the metaphorical gun with respect to royalty payments in Pennsylvania. The PA legislature is considering a bill (HB 1684) that would plug a legal loophole and require Chesapeake and other drillers to pay landowners a 12.5% minimum royalty regardless of post-production costs (see PA NARO Alert: Tell Your State Rep to Vote YES on HB 1684). Landowners in Bradford County sued Chessy held an anti-Chesapeake rally to further express their extreme displeasure (see Bradford PA Landowner Rally over Chesapeake Royalty Shenanigans). Gov. Corbett asked PA’s anti-drilling Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, to investigate (showing how bad it’s gotten–to stoop to asking her to get involved).

And now from bad to worse: a company that owns royalty rights in PA, Scout Petroleum, claims they’ve been screwed out of royalties by Chesapeake and has asked a judge for a full refund and to force Chesapeake into arbitration and grant class-action status to the whole, festering mess…
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Rare Schism Between Landowners & Drillers over PA Royalty Law

Several weeks ago MDN told you that the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners had sent out a flash email to encourage support of House Bill (HB) 1684, the Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act. The bill would clear up shady dealings from Chesapeake Energy (and perhaps others) in deducting certain expenses leaving some landowners with checks for royalties way under the 12.5% guaranteed minimum (see PA NARO Alert: Tell Your State Rep to Vote YES on HB 1684). Not long after NARO sounded the rallying cry, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau joined NARO in supporting HB 1684 (see PA Farm Bureau Joins Chorus Against Chessy on Royalty Issue).

However, this is one issue on which landowners, who are strongly pro-drilling, and the drilling industry itself, part ways. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, through its new grassroots organization called Shale Advocates, is asking shale supporters to oppose HB 1684. According to the Shale Advocates website, they want their supporters to “Take a few moments to contact your representative and let them know you oppose HB1684 and any effort by the Commonwealth to intervene in private contracts. Here’s your opportunity to be heard. Your voice will make a difference.” After HB 1684 has been larded up with amendments, NARO met to consider whether or not they would still support it and in the end, they see more to like than no like about the bill–so they issued the following press release last week to reaffirm their strong support:
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PA Republicans Introduce 4 Royalty Bills, Mea Culpa?

A new PA law was supposed to give leased landowners whose property has had drilling more protections with respect to royalties, but instead ended up harming some landowners who are not leased by allowing forced pooling of their land–weakening their bargaining position (see PA Gov Corbett Signs Back-Door Forced Pooling Bill into Law). PA landowners in general and the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO), PA chapter in particular were not pleased with the new law. Perhaps in an attempt to get back into the good graces of PA landowners, several Republican state lawmakers whose districts are in the Marcellus Shale have introduced a plethora of new bills to protect royalty interests of landowners.

A group of four House Republicans, led by Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming County), recently introduced House Bill 1684, which seeks to clarify state law regarding the minimum royalty payment for landowners so that the deduction of post-production costs from unconventional wells may not result in royalty payments less than the guaranteed minimum. On the Senate side, Sen. Gene Yaw, whose district covers many of the northeastern PA drilling counties, introduced a series of three companion bills to HB 1684. It seems the Republicans can’t do enough now to help out leased landowners…
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Energy Stories of Interest: Thu, Jun 13, 2019

Sitting FERC Commissioners

MARCELLUS/UTICA REGION: ODNR approves 11 permits in Utica shale; Gov. Justice blasts anti-fossil fuel campaign; Exxon stripped of most defenses in NY AG’s climate case; State AGs’ climate cover-up; OTHER U.S. REGIONS: North Dakota makes small bet on natural gas infrastructure company; Low natural gas prices drive up generation share in US Midwest; NATIONAL: U.S. Senators call for equal tax treatment of LNG fuel; From goats to glory: The monster oil discovery nobody is talking about; FERC Dems make climate change case in house hearing; INTERNATIONAL: U.S. ‘freedom gas’ aims to loosen Russia’s grip on Europe’s market.
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