Shale Gas Drilling: Better Landowner Legislation Needed

by Duane Nichols on December 16, 2012

Shale Gas Drilling: Better Landowner Legislation Needed

Letter to the Editor, Charleston (WV) Gazette, December 14, 2012

By Letty Butcher, Independence, Preston County, WV

An article in the November 26th Charleston 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.

See also the web-site for the WV Surfaces Owners Rights Organization:

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Deb Nardone December 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Did you know that even though you could own the land on which your home is built, you might not own what lies underneath? Countless people in communities in the west are experiencing that right now.

You would think that our communities should automatically be a no frack-zone, but there’s a lot going on below the surface. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is leasing mineral rights to natural gas companies even though our communities may sit directly above the natural gas.

So who should be protected? The millions of people who live in these communities, breathe the air, and may even rely on ground water for their drinking water? Or the interests of companies that have bought mineral rights so they can profit even more?

Let’s get 30,000 letters to President Obama by Wednesday telling him to protect our communities from natural gas drilling and to pass strong rules for drilling on public lands. Send your letter today.

Right now, the White House and BLM are taking another look at their outdated rules for fracking on over 750 million acres of public, private, and Native lands. This is your opportunity to make sure protecting our air, water, and public health are the first things BLM must commit to before allowing any fracking to move forward.

The natural gas industry wants as little oversight as possible, but we know fracking shouldn’t be allowed in our backyards or playgrounds, that open pits of fracking chemicals are dangerous, and that companies need to publicly disclose the toxic chemicals in their secret fracking “cocktails”. Now is the time to tell the White House that the rights of people who live in communities above or near these leased mineral areas — the right to clean air and clean water — are what should guide any proposed rules for fracking.

Will you tell President Obama to put health of your community comes first? With millions of people at risk, we cannot afford to get this wrong.

Thanks for all that you do to protect the environment,

Deb Nardone
Director, Beyond Natural Gas Campaign
Sierra Club


Mark Sanderson December 18, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Greetings. Thank you for these posted articles! I have lately studied these stories. I could even say it was research. I must say, the information to trust is on the farms, in the fields, and beside the backyards where drilling and fracking are actually taking place. Oh My God.

The noise, night lights, and odors are not the full story. The trucks, damaged roads, mud flats, tall structures, water pollution, air pollution, and the risks of explosions and fires. And, these are the short term problems. The long term health effects are what WV, PA, OH and NY are trying to understand.


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