March 19, 2008
More than 150 attend Doddridge County meeting on
drilling Local surface owners’ rights group to form
(Smithburg, WV) – More than 150 area landowners filled the community building at the Doddridge County Park on Saturday to learn more about what rights they have as surface owners when oil & gas companies decide to drill wells on their property. The meeting was sponsored by the WV Surface Owners’ Rights Organization (WV-SORO), a new statewide membership organization focused on protecting landowners from abuses by drillers.
Public interest lawyer Dave McMahon, a co-founder of the organization gave an overview of landowners’ current rights and answered questions. “Surface owners have extremely limited rights under the laws and rules that govern the conduct of oil & gas drillers,” said McMahon. “If the driller is proposing more than is ‘fairly necessary,’ and will not recognize the surface owner’s rights, the only real solution right now is for the landowner to go to court. However, by being prepared to exercise their existing right to comment on the driller’s permit, landowners can get leverage in their negotiations with the driller and help them get some of what they want.”
McMahon has authored the “WV Surface Owners’ Guide to Oil and Gas” which helps landowners assess their situation, outlines what rights they have and gives them advice on how to use these rights to their advantage. The guide includes step-by-step suggestions on what property owners should do when they get a notice of an application for a permit, what to do while the oil or gas well is being drilled, what to after drilling is completed and what to do to get compensated for damages.
WV-SORO has identified several changes that are needed to help give landowners more say in the location of wells and access roads and other matters dealing with oil & gas exploration on private property. Many of these changes were incorporated into a ‘Surface Owners’ Bill of Rights’ (HB 4286 & SB 482) which was introduced in both the House of Delegates and state Senate during the recent legislative session, but did not pass.
The proposed legislation requires a face-to-face meeting between the driller and the landowner before a permit application is filed. “While a number of companies already talk to property owners in advance of drilling, the new law would require they all do so,” said Gary Zuckett, a WV-SORO co-founder and executive director of WV Citizen Action Group. “It’s just common sense that before you go onto someone’s property and tear it up, you sit down and try to come to some common understanding”
Other provisions in the Surface Owners’ Bill of Rights include:
- Earlier notice that the driller is coming, including requiring notice before the driller comes on the property to survey well site, access road or pipeline locations.
- Allowing for a pre-permit negotiating period to give the surface owner input in planning and executing well site(s) and access roads, including location, type of road construction and revegetation type; and requiring mediation if the driller and surface owner cannot come to an agreement.
- Ensuring fair and equitable compensation by requiring the driller to post an individual well bond if no pre-drilling agreement is reached between the driller and the surface owner.
- Valuing land taken for well sites, roads or pipelines at full market value, rather than the value of its current use, and requiring compensation for the total value of the surface owner’s losses, including adjacent land.
- Requiring the driller to offer the surface owner residential gas service, at cost, from the wells or gathering lines on their property.
“Living with the gas companies isn’t easy, there are a lot of problems, and things need to change,” said Julie Archer, an organizer with WV-SORO and a surface owner. “Our elected officials, particularly our legislators and county commissioners, need to hear from us. They are hearing from the industry and what they are hearing is that if the ‘Surface Owners’ Bill of Rights’ is passed it will put them out of business and dry up severance taxes to the state and counties. This is untrue. We just want the drillers to be good neighbors and do what is right.”
Archer said that while one of WV-SORO’s goals is to get legislation passed that will allow landowners to stand on even footing with the industry, the group wants to help landowners by serving as a resource and making sure they understand what rights they have now. Both Archer and McMahon noted that the group continues to make improvements to its website to make more information available online and is looking into ways for surface owners to share experiences and ideas at the site.
Sharon Marshok, a WV-SORO member who helped organize the meeting thanked all the legislators and local elected officials who attended the meeting “especially [state] Senator [Clark] Barnes for his interest.”
Barnes (R-Randolph) attended the meeting along with Republican gubernatorial candidate Russ Weeks and Jim Teets, a Republican running for state Agriculture Commissioner. Senators Larry Edgell (D-Wetzel) and Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall), who represent Doddridge County in the state Senate, and Delegates William Romine (R-Doddridge) and Woody Ireland (R-Ritchie) were unable to attend. Edgell and Kessler were sponsors of the ‘Surface Owners’ Bill of Rights’.
Marshok and Nancy Powers are working with other area landowners to form a local surface owners’ rights group. “I feel this can be a joint venture for both the gas drillers and surface owners,” Marshok said of the proposed ‘Surface Owners’ Bill of Rights. “We are only asking for consideration and fair compensation for damages to our property. I think with more time to sit down and discuss the issues with the drillers before they commence drilling would be definitely a step in the right direction.” Marshok can be reached at (304)-623-1245 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Powers can be reached at (304) 623-0482 or Nancypsalem@aol.com.
For more information, including how to obtain a copy of the “WV Surface Owners’ Guide to Oil and Gas,” call (304) 346-5891 or visit www.wvsoro.org.