This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette
December 20, 2007
Politics blocking drilling, family says
By Ken Ward Jr. Staff writer
Gov. Joe Manchin and state regulators are playing politics with gas drilling permits, the leader of a family that wants to drill under Chief Logan State Park says.
“Everything in West Virginia is political,” said Robert Jaeger, a retired Salem, Va., stockbroker who is president of the Lawson Heirs Inc.
Jaeger called the Gazette to complain about the state Department of Environmental Protection’s denial of permit applications to drill his family’s gas reserves under Chief Logan.
Last week, DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer rejected five permit applications, the first in a proposal by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., to begin drilling nearly three dozen new wells inside the park.
Timmermeyer cited a state law that prohibits “extraction of minerals ... on or under any state park.”
Jaeger pointed out that his family donated land for the park to the state in 1960.
At the time, he said, the deeds kept the gas reserves for the family and anticipated that drilling would occur someday. The prohibition was enacted by the Legislature five years later, said Larry George, a lawyer for the Lawson Heirs.
“The deed trumps everything,” Jaeger said during a phone interview Tuesday.
Cabot officials have said they will challenge the DEP permit denial in court. Jaeger said that’s just what state officials want, so that Manchin has political cover.
“They know we’re right,” Jaeger said. “They want us to take them to court — the politicians in West Virginia — so they will get off the hook.
“I think it’s a slam dunk that we will drill legally,” he said.
Jaeger criticized Manchin for having his name on state signs and the state for naming so many roads and buildings after Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. “They would never allow that in Virginia,” Jaeger said.
Lara Ramsburg, communications director for Manchin, said state lawyers are simply trying to follow existing law.
“Our lawyers sincerely believe it’s illegal,” Ramsburg said. “My understanding it that it’s currently illegal. If you can get the law changed, we’ll look at it.”
Jaeger said Cabot and his family made the decision to seek drilling permits now because economic conditions in the gas industry are favorable.
“It’s just plain old money,” he said. “It’s profitable now. We have all this land we just haven’t sold, and we haven’t made any money off of it.”
Cabot officials want to get at 300 million to 500 million cubic feet of natural gas under the 3,600-acre park. The company holds lease agreements for the gas, which is owned by the heirs of Anthony Lawson, one of the first English settlers of what is now Logan County.
Jaeger said he is among 13 family members who own Lawson Heirs Inc. None of them live in West Virginia, he said.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.