Better landowner legislation needed
An article in the Nov. 26 Gazette, "Court suggests lawmakers revisit appeals of drilling permits," by Ken Ward Jr., reports that, "The West Virginia Supreme Court is urging lawmakers to reconsider whether surface landowners in the state should have the right to appeal when oil and gas drilling permits are issued for their land" and that "[t]he suggestion was included as part of a new court ruling concluding that current state law does not give appeal rights to surface property owners who don't also hold title to oil and gas reserves buried underground." The current law predates the new horizontal drilling technology.
In this article, Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, was quoted as saying, "If you start to give them [surface owners] the right to appeal or object, you start to tear away at the mineral rights having primacy over the surface rights."
Not only does his statement seem disdainful toward surface owners but it also seems apparent that Mr. DeMarco's wish is to use government to keep surface owners submissive so that the gas drilling industry can continue to come onto surface owners' lands uninvited, using whatever amount of land it deems "reasonably necessary" to site gas-well pads, access roads, pits, impoundments, pipelines, etc. And the industry does this without any input or approval of the surface owners who must bear the burden of the adverse impacts to their environment, health, quality of life and investment in their lands. In short, the current slant toward mineral holders denies the surface owners their right to complete use and enjoyment of their properties.
When mineral-rights dominance over surface rights became entrenched in America, damage to the land was done mostly with a pick and a shovel, which is certainly benign compared to the invasive and destructive effects of these enormous Marcellus horizontal well sites that have replaced "conventional" drilling methods. Mineral-estate dominance might have been seen as justifiable in the 19th century, but it certainly does not seem fair when considering today's technology.
One has to wonder if the drilling industry would just like to drive surface owners off their lands, not unlike what the white man did to American Indians. But in the Marcellus drilling frenzy, surface owners have no reservation to go to as sanctuary.
Thank goodness there are better methods of communication today so that more people realize that unconventional horizontal drilling is unlike previous conventional drilling. More people recognize the adverse impacts of this new drilling technology and its associated activities. Those who care about their lands and homesteads will dig in and push for better legislation. The Legislature cannot afford to ignore the need for better surface-owner legislation in 2013 because, if they do, it will be too late, as irreparable harm to our environment and to the people of West Virginia will be realized.
Prisoners should be treated better