06:32 GMT25 October 2020
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    Last week, a candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates was removed from a hearing in the state’s lower chamber for simply reading out a publicly available list of donations West Virginia lawmakers have received from oil and gas companies.

    During her testimony, Lissa Lucas voiced opposition to the Co-Tenancy and Majority Protection Act bill (H.B. 4265), which would require the approval of only 75 percent of landowners in order for oil and gas companies to drill on a private tracts of land. That's a substantial decrease from the current law, which requires that a full 100 percent of landowners in West Virginia approve drilling before it can occur.

    ​"[Lucas] was reporting on political contributions for the delegates on the Judiciary Committee campaign from oil and gas industry lobbyists and companies. That's all public information, so I felt that her right to speech was being violated by her not being allowed to discuss that," Natalie Thompson, an author at Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition who attended the hearing, told Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear.

    "In fact, the chairman of the committee said that she was making personal comments about committee members. Last time I checked, campaign contributions have nothing to do with your personal life," Thompson added.

    "There are a lot of other states that have been able to get away with legislation like this. According to this bill, within a tract of land, if 75 percent of the owners had consented to the drilling, then the other 25 percent that are nonconsenting owners would be forced into this same tract so that the drilling well pad, which consumes about 15 acres of land, would be able to be placed on the properties of surface owners who have not consented to the drilling process," Thompson told hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou. "Surface owners" refers to owners of surface estates. The term is distinct from "mineral owners" who retain proprietary rights over minerals underneath the ground.

    "Fundamentally, it's not democratic," she added.

    However, according to a poll tweeted by The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, a majority of Republican and Democratic voters in the state approve of the bill.

    ​"The people who are going to be speaking in favor of this bill are all going to be paid by the industry," Lucas said during her testimony, the Huffington Post reported.

    ​"I have to keep this short because the public only gets a minute and 45 seconds while lobbyists can throw a gala at the Marriott with whiskey and wine and talk for hours to the delegates," she added.

    During Lucas' testimony, her microphone was cut off and she was asked to leave the legislative committee room.

    "They had two people who act as security on the floor. One came up and tapped Lucas on the shoulder and told her that she needed to leave. The chairman said, ‘You need to get her out of here.' The other [security guard] came over, pulled the microphone away from her. She continued and said, ‘I want to finish.' They said ‘No' and so she said, ‘Drag me out then,'" Thompson said.

    "As they were taking her out of the chambers, she was still saying that she had a right to discuss and that if they consider [her testimony] personal, then she is sorry that this is what it has come to in the state of West Virginia," Thompson added.

    On her personal blog, Lucas recently wrote, "Allow me to point out that if Delegates genuinely think that my talking about who their campaign donors are — and how much they're receiving from corporate lobbyists/corporate political action committees — is an ad hominem attack… then they should be refusing those donations," she wrote.

    She also wrote that lawmakers should not accept any donation that makes them feel personally attacked when it is mentioned.

    "Because that's not an attack. That's guilt. And you SHOULD be feeling that. Let that guilt about who you're really working for inform your votes; don't let the corporate money do it," Lucas added in her post.

    According to Thompson, the bill Lucas was protesting is a catch-22 situation between surfaces owners who consent drilling and those who don't because while
    "The argument is that the 75 percent of the owners who are consenting to drilling and do want to file leases to have the minerals extracted from their land are not able to do what they want to do with their land. So, it's a catch-22 situation there," Thompson told Radio Sputnik.

    "West Virginia has a long history of being oppressed by industry. So, when people are poor and desperate to put food on the table, they're looking for the next way out. They're not looking at how their lives and rights are being compromised," Thompson added.

    The committee passed the controversial bill, which will be voted on by the state's House of Delegates and Senate next.

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    rights, property, bill, mining, West Virginia
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