WEST VIRGINIA - Oil & Gas "Critical Infrastructure" Anti-Protest Bills

  • Posted on: 4 February 2020
  • By: Connor Gibson

Updated July 9, 2020

See Full Report: State Bills to Criminalize Peaceful Protest of Oil & Gas "Critical Infrastructure"

2020 HB 4615

  • Signed by Governor on March 25
  • Passed in Senate on March 7, 2020
  • Passed in House on February 13, 2020
  • Introduced and referred to House Judiciary Committee on January 30, 2020

ICNL analysis:

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure. Under the bill, knowingly trespassing on property containing a critical infrastructure facility is punishable by a year in jail and a $500 fine. Criminal trespass on critical infrastructure property with intent to "vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment, or impede or inhibit operations" of the facility is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Actually vandalizing, defacing, or tampering with the facility--regardless of actual damage--is a felony punishable by 5 years in prison and a $2,000 fine. An individual convicted of any of the offenses, and any entity that "compensates, provides consideration to or remunerates" a person for committing the offenses, is also civilly liable for any damage sustained. An organization or person found to have "conspired" to commit any of the offenses--regardless of whether they were committed--is subject to a criminal fine. The bill newly defines “critical infrastructure facility” under West Virginia law to include a range of oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities that are fenced off or posted with signs indicating that entry is prohibited.

Industry Lobbying:

The Intercept reported several companies and groups that worked to advance HB 4615:

  • The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), via the lobbying firm Orion Strategies
  • Dominion Resources lobbyist Bob Orndorff
  • The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, whose 2020 members include:
    • Antero Resources
    • Chevron
    • Dominion Resources
    • Energy Transfer
    • EQT Corp
    • MPLX - Marathon Petroleum
    • TC Energy (TransCanada)
    • Williams
    • XTO Energy - ExxonMobil

The state of West Virginia does not require lobbyists or companies to disclose positions taken on specific legislation.

A list of registered lobbyists [PDF download] as of January 30, 2020 includes several lobbyists for companies and groups that have supported similar bills in other states, including the following companies.

  • American Petroleum Institute (API)
  • American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM)
  • Dominion Energy
  • Dow Chemical
  • Enbridge
  • ExxonMobil
  • Marathon Petroleum
  • TransCanada

This list is not confirmation of lobbying for HB 4615.

Campaign Finance Data:

Eight of the nine co-sponsors of HB 4615 have received a collective $48,550 in campaign contributions from oil, gas, electric utility and railroad interests.

Note: this $48,550 sum includes a $500 payment from TransCanada Services USA to Rep. Bill Anderson (see here), which is excluded from the dataset because of a tagging error.

Media and References

Alleen Brown, A Powerful Petrochemical Lobbying Group Advanced Anti-Protest Legislation in the Midst of the Pandemic, The Intercept, June 7, 2020

Alexander C. Kaufman, States Quietly Pass Laws Criminalizing Fossil Fuel Protests Amid Coronavirus Chaos, HuffPost, March 27, 2020

Jamison Cocklin, West Virginia Governor Signs Bill to Protect Pipelines, 'Critical Infrastructure', Natural Gas Intel, April 2, 2020

Erin Beck, Legislative session included more tax breaks for industry, fight over funding foster care, Times West Virginian, March 8, 2020

Emily Allen & Dave Mistich, With 9 Days To Go, Here's Where Bills Are In The W.Va. Legislature, WV Metro News, February 27, 2020

State Senator Stephen Baldwin, What's going on in Charleston? - Protest Bill, Fayette Tribune, February 24, 2020

Brad McElhinny, House passes ‘critical infrastructure’ criminal penalties, WV Metro News, February 13, 2020

Dave Mistich, W.Va. Anti-Protest Bill Draws Free Speech, Environmental Criticism At Public Hearing, WV Public Broadcasting, February 10, 2020

Jake Flatley, Bill to criminalize trespassing at infrastructure facilities takes heat during public hearing, WV Metro News, February 10, 2020

Russell Mokhiber, West Virginia Legislation Would Make Civil Disobedience Against Gas Pipelines a Felony, Morgan County USA / Common Dreams, February 6, 2020