The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

April 4, 2013

Court asked to rule on gas drilling question

MORGANTOWN — A federal judge has asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to rule conclusively on whether state law allows a gas drilling company to use a Marion County farmer’s land to sink horizontal wells that would draw gas from neighboring tracts.

The 2011 case that Richard Cain originally filed in Marion County Circuit Court “could have far-reaching legal and economic implications for the state of West Virginia,” U.S. District Judge Keeley wrote in a recent ruling. “Such important and unsettled issues of state law should ... be decided by West Virginia’s highest court.”

Cain says Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy plans to use the best of his land for as many as 18 well pads, leaving him with mostly steep, unusable hillsides.

Cain concedes he doesn’t own the rights to oil, gas and minerals under his 105 acres. But he argues a 1907 deed at the center of his lawsuit never envisioned such extensive surface disruption.

XTO denies doing anything illegal and says it paid $63,000 for a pipeline right of way easement to transport oil, gas water and other substances across Cain’s property.

XTO calls its plan to use 36 acres of Cain’s land “reasonably necessary” for exercising its rights.

That, Keeley said, is the heart of the dispute.

Both sides have cited situations that are “arguably analogous” to the one at hand, Keeley said. But neither has identified a “clear controlling West Virginia precedent to guide the court’s decision.”

As Cain noted in one court filing, a recent issue of “West Virginia Law Review” was entirely devoted to the fact that past cases “do not provide enough clear answers for one to reliably predict” how the state Supreme Court would rule on a case like his.

Cain says the mineral rights under his land were sold in 1881 and have changed hands several times. But he claims ownership of those mineral rights doesn’t give a company the authority to drill multiple wells.

There’s no dispute that Cain bought the land in 1989, Keeley has previously ruled. “The ownership history of the oil and gas rights themselves, however, is somewhat more convoluted.”

XTO’s lease gives it the clear right to access adjoining property through pipelines, Keeley said in dismissing some defendants from the case last year. It does not, however, “otherwise provide the right to use the surface of the tract to explore for or produce oil and gas from neighboring oil and gas estates,” she wrote.

Cain is a member of the West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, which has been monitoring his case closely.

Spokeswoman Julie Archer said her group believes that even if the driller had the right to access neighboring tracts, it cannot build the well pads on Cain’s land without his consent.

“We are not trying to stop the drilling by supporting this case,” Archer said. “We just don’t want to be treated like the renters in a company town.”

Keeley has given the parties until April 29 to submit case summaries and proposed language for the question the court would answer.

Text Only
West Virginia
  • Rahal: Fund VA reform ‘for our veterans’

     On the cusp of Congress’s lengthy summer break, factions sparring over legislation to strengthen health care and funding reforms for the Department of Veterans Affairs may have reached a compromise.
    Although final details are still in the works, the top two negotiators, Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., released a joint statement that said they had “made significant progress toward and agreement on legislation to make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals.”

    July 29, 2014

  • Attorney general reaches $950,000 settlement with three financial groups

    West Virginia’s attorney general has reached a $950,000 settlement with three companies over allegations of antitrust law violations.

    July 28, 2014

  • Woman convicted in teen’s slaying moved

    A Monongalia County teenager has been transferred to a state prison to complete her sentence for the slaying of another teenager.
    The Lakin Correctional Center near Point Pleasant said Friday Rachel Shoaf has been booked at the Division of Corrections prison. Shoaf turned 18 last month and had been held in a juvenile facility.

    July 26, 2014

  • Board suspends clinic operator’s license

    A West Virginia board Friday suspended the license of the operator of a pain management clinic where investigators found syringes were being reused. It was the second disciplinary action involving the doctor’s license within a decade.

    July 26, 2014

  • Candidates: Leave global warming debate to scientists

    Two West Virginia congressional hopefuls said during their first candidate forum matchup Thursday that the global warming debate is better left to scientists.
    Democrat Nick Casey and Republican Alex Mooney added that other countries should step up in reducing carbon emissions.

    July 24, 2014

  • Lawsuit filed over Dirty Girl Mud Run

    A lawsuit has been filed against the producers of a run that was canceled in Charleston in which participants were told they wouldn’t be issued refunds.

    July 24, 2014

  • WVa. man sues GM over wife's death

    A West Virginia man has filed a lawsuit against General Motors Corp., claiming a defective ignition switch in a Chevrolet Cobalt caused a 2006 accident that killed his pregnant wife.

    July 24, 2014

  • Feds commit to health studies on spilled chemical

    After largely dismissing the possibility of long-term health problems, federal officials will conduct more studies on chemicals that spilled into West Virginia’s largest drinking water supply in January.
    In the next two months, federal health officials are also heading back to West Virginia.

    July 24, 2014

  • Park Service assesses impact of W.Va. attractions

    Four National Park Service attractions in West Virginia drew a total of 1.5 million visitors last year.

    July 23, 2014

  • This weekend's 'Dirty Girl' race canceled

    Organizers of a Charleston running event that was canceled for this weekend says it won’t issue refunds.

    July 23, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads