§22-21-17. Review of application; hearing; pooling order; spacing; operator; elections; working interests, royalty interests, carried interests, escrow account for conflicting claims, division order.
(a) Prior to the time fixed for a hearing under subsection (b) of this section, the board shall also set a time and place for a conference between the proposed applicant to operate a coalbed methane drilling unit and all persons to whom notice has been given under subsection (a), section sixteen of this article who have not entered into a voluntary agreement. At such conference the applicant and such other persons present or represented having an interest in the proposed unit shall be given an opportunity to enter into voluntary agreements for the development of the unit upon reasonable terms and conditions.

No order may be issued by the board as to any unit unless the applicant submits at the hearing a verified statement setting forth the results of the conference. If agreement is reached with all parties to the conference, the board shall find the unit is a voluntary unit and issue an order consistent with such finding.

(b) The review board shall, upon request of a proposed applicant for a drilling unit or upon request of a coal owner or operator, provide a convenient date and time for a hearing on the application for a drilling unit, which hearing date shall be no sooner than thirty-five days nor more than sixty days of the date the request for hearing is made. The review board shall review the application and on the date specified for a hearing shall conduct a public hearing. The review board shall take evidence, making a record thereof and consider:

(1) The area which may be drained efficiently and economically by the proposed coalbed methane well or wells;

(2) The plan of development of the coal and the need for proper ventilation of any mines or degasification of any affected coal seams;

(3) The nature and character of any coal seam or seams which will be affected by the coalbed methane well or wells;

(4) The surface topography and property lines of the lands underlaid by the coal seams to be included in the unit;

(5) Evidence relevant to the proper boundary of the drilling unit;

(6) The nature and extent of ownership of each coalbed methane owner or claimant and whether conflicting claims exist;

(7) Whether the applicant for the drilling unit proposes to be the operator of the coalbed methane well or wells within the unit; and if so, whether such applicant has a lease or other agreement from the owners or claimants of a majority interest in the proposed drilling unit;

(8) Whether a disagreement exists among the coalbed methane owners or claimants over the designation of the operator for any coalbed methane wells within the unit and, if so, relevant evidence to determine which operator can properly and efficiently develop the coalbed methane within the unit for the benefit of the majority of the coalbed methane owners;

(9) If more than one person is interested in operating a well within the unit, the estimated cost submitted by each such person for drilling, completing, operating and marketing the coalbed methane from any proposed well or wells; and

(10) Any other available geological or scientific data pertaining to the pool which is proposed to be developed.

(c) The review board shall take into account the evidence introduced, comments received and any objections at the hearing, and if satisfied that a drilling unit should not be established, shall enter an order denying the application. If the review board is satisfied that a drilling unit should be established, it shall enter a pooling order establishing a drilling unit. Such pooling order shall:

(1) Establish the boundary of the proposed unit, making such adjustment in the boundary as is just;

(2) Authorize the drilling and operation of a coalbed methane well or wells for production of coalbed methane from the pooled acreage;

(3) Establish minimum distances for any wells in the unit and for other wells which would drain the pooled acreage;

(4) Designate the operator who will be authorized to drill, complete and operate any well or wells in the unit;

(5) Establish a reasonable fee for the operator for operating costs, which shall include routine maintenance of the well and all accounting necessary to pay all expenses, royalties and amounts due working interest owners;

(6) Such other findings and provisions as are appropriate for each order.

(d) The operator designated in such order shall be responsible for drilling, completing, equipping, operating, plugging and abandoning the well, shall market all production therefrom, shall collect all proceeds therefor and shall distribute such proceeds in accordance with the division order issued by the review board.

(e) Upon issuance of the pooling order, the coalbed methane owners or any lessee of any such owners or any claimants thereto may make one of the following elections within thirty days after issuance of the order:

(1) An election to sell or lease its interest to the operator on such terms as the parties may agree, or if unable to agree, upon such terms as are set forth by the board in its order;

(2) An election to become a working interest owner by participating in the risk and cost of the well; or

(3) An election to participate in the operation of the well as a carried interest owner.

Any entity which does not make an election within said thirty days prescribed herein shall be deemed to have elected to sell or lease under subdivision (1) of this subsection.

(f) The working interest in the well shall include: (i) The right to participate in decisions regarding expenditures in excess of operating costs, taxes, any royalties in excess of one-eighth, and other costs and expenses allowed in the pooling order; and (ii) the obligation to pay for all expenditures. The working interest shall exist in: (i) All well operators and owners who participate in the risk and cost of drilling and completing the well; and (ii) carried interest owners after recoupment provided in subsection (h) of this section. The working interest owners' net revenue share shall be seven eighths of the proceeds of sales of coalbed methane at the wellhead after deduction of operating costs, taxes, any royalties in excess of one-eighth and other costs and expenses allowed in a pooling order. Unless the working interest owners otherwise agree, the working interest owners shall share in all costs and decisions in proportion to their ownership interest in the unit. If any working interest owner deposits or contributes amounts in the escrow account which exceed actual costs, such owner shall be entitled to a refund; and if amounts deposited or contributed are less than actual costs, such owner shall make a deposit or contribution for the deficiency.

(g) The royalty interest in a well shall include the right to receive one eighth of the gross proceeds resulting from the sale of methane at the wellhead and such interest shall exist in the coalbed methane owners: Provided, That any coalbed methane owner who in good faith has entered a lease or other contract prior to receiving notice of an application to form the drilling unit as provided herein shall be entitled to such owner's fractional interest in the royalty calculated at a rate provided for in such contract. Each such owner shall be entitled to share in the royalty in proportion to his or her fractional interest in the unit.

(h) Where a coalbed methane owner elects to become a carried interest owner, such owner shall be entitled to his or her proportionate share of the working interest after the other working interest owners have recouped three hundred percent of the reasonable capital costs of the well or wells, including drilling, completing, equipping, plugging and abandoning and any further costs of reworking or other improvements of a capital nature.

(i) Each pooling order issued shall provide for the establishment of an escrow account into which the payment of costs and proceeds attributable to any conflicting interests shall be deposited and held for the interest of the claimants as follows:

(1) Each participating working interest owner, except for the operator, shall deposit in the escrow account its proportionate share of the costs allocable to the ownership interest claimed by such working interest owner.

(2) The operator shall deposit in the escrow account all proceeds attributable to the conflicting interests of any coalbed methane owners who lease, or are deemed to have leased, their interest, plus all proceeds in excess of operational expenses, as allowed in the pooling order, attributable to the conflicting working and carried interest owners.

(j) After each coalbed methane owner has made, or has been deemed to have made, an election under subsection (e) of this section, the review board shall enter a division order which shall set out the net revenue interest of each working interest owner, including each carried interest owner and the royalty interest of each coalbed methane owner. Thereafter payments shall be made to working interest owners, carried interest owners and royalty interest owners in accordance with the division order, except that payments attributable to conflicting claims shall be deposited in the escrow account. The fractional interest of each owner shall be expressed as a decimal carried to the sixth place.

(k) Upon resolution of conflicting claims either by voluntary agreement of the parties or a final judicial determination, the review board shall enter a revised division order in accordance with such agreement or determination and all amounts in escrow shall be distributed as follows:

(1) Each legally entitled working interest owner shall receive its proportionate share of the proceeds attributable to the conflicting ownership interests;

(2) Each legally entitled carried interest owner shall receive its proportionate share of the proceeds attributable to the conflicting ownership interests, after recoupment of amounts provided in subsection (h) of this section;

(3) Each legally entitled entity leasing, or deemed to have leased, its coalbed methane shall receive a share of the royalty proceeds attributable to the conflicting interests; and

(4) The operator shall receive the costs contributed to the escrow account by each legally entitled participating working interest owner.

(l) The review board shall enact rules for the administration and protection of funds delivered to escrow accounts.

(m) No provision of this section or article shall obviate the requirement that the coal owner's consent and agreement be obtained prior to the issuance of a permit as required under section seven of this article.