An arbitration panel established for a little-used natural gas extraction process would be expanded for all natural gas and oil well disputes in Pennsylvania under legislation recently introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate. The General Assembly established the three-member Coal Bed Methane Review Board in 2010 to resolve access roads, placement of pipelines and other disputes between surface land owners and those who own the mineral rights. The coal bed methane process extracts natural gas from coal beds rather than conventional natural gas reservoirs.

“Only five counties, and all in western Pennsylvania, have coal bed methane operations,” said Joe Pittman who works for the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Don White, R-Armstrong. “The review process has really never been used.”

That would change if the board were to arbitrate all natural gas and oil wells. An official with Chief Oil & Gas, which has a substantial presence in the Marcellus Shale, said while he has yet to review the legislation, he would support anything that reduced court actions.

White’s office said that the workload would increase for the review board not only because conventional oil and gas wells greatly outnumber coal bed methane operations but also because there are more instances where surface and mineral rights have different owners.

Pittman said his company has even seen instances “where someone has half the mineral right who is not the same as the person who has surface rights.”

In a statement, White said that under his bill all parties would retain the right to appeal the board’s decision to their county court of common pleas.

“As Marcellus Shale activity grows, I believe such a review process would be a beneficial and less costly option for landowners with natural gas development on their properties,” White said.

The Coal Bed Methane Review Board is made up of a member appointed by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau; a member appointed jointly by the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, the Independent Oil and Gas Association and the Pennsylvania Coal Association; and a member appointed jointly by the deans of the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences of Penn State University.

The board is required to make a decision within 10 days from the time a hearing is held on a well location dispute. — J.L.K.