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Landowners need rights in drilling boom, WVU report says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia should consider increasing the rights of surface landowners to address problems those landowners experience as a result of the boom in Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, according to a new study by West Virginia University researchers.

The study, presented at an academic conference last month, involved a survey of landowners - both those who own their mineral rights and those who don't - to gauge experiences and opinions about drilling on their property.

Alan Collins, a professor of agricultural and resource economics, and Kofi Nkansah, a graduate student in natural resource economics, surveyed about 125 landowners to try to find out if the separation of mineral from surface rights impacted views on natural gas drilling.

The survey was conducted from December 2012 to February 2013, based on a sample of landowners drawn from gas-drilling permits on file with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Those surveyed owned a range of acreage, from 6 acres to 7,000, and the sites involved were completed wells, meaning drilling was completed and natural gas being produced. Seventy-six of those surveyed did not own their mineral rights, while 49 did.

Over the entire sample, the results were evenly split between those who reported being satisfied or dissatisfied with the gas-drilling activities their land. But among those who did not own their mineral rights, nearly 60 percent were not satisfied.

Surface-only owners often noted "their lack of rights in dealing with drilling companies" and how they were "treated with disrespect" by drilling company representatives, the WVU paper said.

"As one respondent noted, 'No matter how much money you receive it is not enough. We love the country because of the peace and quiet that we have here, but when the drilling company was here we had everything but peace and quiet. As a surface owner, we really have no rights'," the WVU report said.

"Typical of the comments was: 'We were not consulted about local of pad or road, surveyed well, surveyed well site without notice, unsafe work site during drilling, poor topsoil preservation, pollution to streams, excessive acreage damaged, poor reclamation (slope spillage), ridiculously low offer of damage compensation ($1,500 for 8 acres of destruction)'," the report said.

The report said the survey results "indicate a need to expand surface owner rights in West Virginia, particularly when there is a residence on the property where wells are drilled."

"Quite often the separation of mineral from surface rights occurred decades to generations ago," the report said. "With changing technology making shale gas resources available that previously were not accessible, split estate owners are faced with an unfortunate situation where their property basically 'enslaved' by an industrial process of drilling and fracturing for the sole benefit of mineral right holders.

"The wealth created in society by shale gas extraction should not exploited by imposing excessive extraction burdens on surface owners without mineral rights."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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