|By Bob Weaver|
West Virginia’s natural gas industry keeps pushing to whittle away royalty payments to residents, take over family farms to horizontal drilling and reducing state taxes on their operations.
They have a lot of support in Charleston, many legislators having strong ties to the industry.
Not since state politicos allowed the separation of land owners from the royalty under their property over 100 years ago has the push been greater.
Most West Virginian's have been rendered near powerless over the extraction of the state's natural resources, many opting to just have some jobs.
The WV Legislature has threatened to eliminate the Severance Tax on gas, oil and coal, which would devastate the tax base of many
West Virginia counties, including Calhoun, whose tax receipts have dropped to 1990 levels.
Calhoun has experienced record numbers of delinquent taxes annually.
Such economic problems feed into the elimination of 55 county governments, moving toward creating about a dozen consolidated counties.
The West Virginia Legislature just passed a coal severance tax rebate program during the end of the 2019 session designed to boost coal production by making it easier to procure new equipment. It reduces state revenue by $120 million.
The state Supreme Court is deciding if a lower court judge got it right when he ruled natural gas production company EQT trespassed on property in Doddridge County where it owned the mineral rights.
EQT began drilling nine wells on the property of Margot Beth Crowder and David Wentz in 2013. Crowder-Wentz owned the surface rights but EQT owned the mineral rights. Crowder-Wentz claimed EQT was trespassing because it was drilling on their property to get gas from other properties using horizontal drilling. The lower court judge agreed.
In his response, Crowder-Wentz attorney Dave McMahon said Judge Sweeney got it right. He told the High Court it was like his clients’ property was being condemned.
“We’re going to come here,” McMahon said EQT told the property owners. “‘We’d like you to sign this surface-use agreement but if you’re not the bulldozers are going to come here anyway.’ That’s not a very fair bargaining situation.”
The Crowder-Wentz farm on flat land is now a patchwork of drilling operations, some withing 250 feet of their house, in addition to a large water containment pond.
EQT just settled a lawsuit in WV for over $50 million where they continued to deduced production costs from royalty owners checks.
Drilling corporations were earlier punished nearly $300 million in the Roane County Tawney Case for the same offense, but it seems some of them never missed a beat, continuing the same practice.
The WV Supreme Courts decision is forthcoming.
Meanwhile, this week, a West Virginia gas pipeline construction and inspection company will pay $3.7 million in overtime and damages to its employees, according to federal court filings
Team Environmental, LLC, based in Millwood, will pay $1.85 million in gross back wages and $1.85 million in liquidated damages to about 300 employees, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston. U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. approved the consent judgment March 4.