A Concept Appropriate to Our Times – “Legal Thieves”

by S. Tom Bond on June 4, 2015

High pressure pipes, how many, how long?

An insight with more truth than fiction is “legal thieves”

Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV, June 4, 2015

As you drive North on I-79 by the Jane Lew Exit, you go over a small hill and across an overpass. Then if you will look right you will see a red barn with the sign “Consolidated Gas Legal Thieves” It was put there originally by my neighbor, Jack Shock. How it got there is an interesting story.

When Consolidated Gas (now Dominion Resources) decided to build a storage field in the Fink area of Lewis County, the geologists thought they had it confined to the Fink area. Storage fields are usually exhausted gas fields, but since they may be pressurized beyond the original source gas, geologists have to be careful to see that the gas bearing material runs into something else that is not porous. In this case they misjudged and it leaked out somewhere on Kincheloe, moving north. The Fink storage field needed to be abandoned, unless the storage could be extended to some new area where it could be confined.

So they went back to the maps and well logs and decided on an area to be called the Lost Creek Storage Field. It is around the town of Lost Creek, in a considerably more populated and less rural area. When people heard about the additional wells and pipelines they became outraged, since the area had been exploited for one hundred years, going back to John D. Rockefeller’s Hope Natural Gas company.

Jack was the mainspring of an organization called Concerned Land and Natural Resources Owners, Inc., which came into being in the 1970′s. To conclude the story about the Lost Creek Storage Field, it leaked, too, and that brought in to existence what was once called the Bridgeport Storage Field. Today the combined fields has become one of the largest in the United States. [I read years later that the Gantz Sand, in which the storage field is located, was a series of sandbanks along a great river which ran from the area of the Catskills to the inland sea that was located in what is now the center of the continent.]

Jack Shock was a large, corpulent man, who had been a good basketball player in high school around 1950 and who had enjoyed many a good fist fight in his younger years in Akron, OH. While working as a machinist there he had accumulated enough money from that job to add to his Uncle Elias’ property and have a considerable acreage.

He thought a lot, and wrote many pieces in local newspapers. He was not a powerful speaker or debater, but understood power moves very well. The term “Legal Thieves” implies using law to steal. It is recognition that ethics and what is legal are not the same. This is heresy to many people, since we have a high opinion of our native land and are taught all our lives to obey the law. At this point I need to say a few things about the nature of law to focus what follows.

There has to be a set of rules to conduct any kind of business. The owner must have property secured. Loaning money must be conducted so people will repay. Regardless of the form of government, only the most simple forms of cooperation can be conducted without laws. So people will put up with less-than-perfect laws to have some law.

Now I think it should be obvious that law doesn’t necessarily involve some form of “fairness.” Laws can be written to do all kinds of things. They can be written to support slavery. They can be written to support religious beliefs, or a particular religion. They can be written to enclose a nation or city, or they can be written to encourage trade. All can be enforced with state violence. This they do not teach you in school, do they?

More to the point, laws can be written to determine how the economic pie is divided. What is a fair share for labor, for management and ownership? Some of the big questions for all of us who have observed changes in the law involve precisely those relationships. Organization of labor has largely been eliminated, to the advantage of management and ownership. Social services are under attack. Fair wage, once established by government, has been allowed to stagnate compared to increased productivity.

On the other hand, safety laws for the worker and community have been put in place, to the disadvantage of management and ownership. Establishment of truth in lending, laws regulating food quality, various kinds of medical licensing, consumer law, and so forth, have helped everyone, but especially labor, because laborers have limited resources with which to look out for themselves.

Some categories are ambiguous. Does the seatbelt law help ordinary citizens most, or insurance companies? Does medical marijuana help citizens or a particular business? Gun laws are notoriously controversial. So, one may ask, Who does each kind of law help? Eminent domain was helpful to society until it became a tool for private industry.

What I’m coming to is the increasing awareness among people that laws are not sacred “received truth,” a simplistic view once widely held. Any particular law is likely to define a balance between the interests of some group and some other(s). For a group to be using influence and money to advance its own interests is not unusual. It may, in fact, be the most common mode of law change.

This in turn, implies an unfair balance of interests, a balance not obvious to everyone involved. How is fair recognized? What is to prevent a strong interest group from pursuing its particular interest far from the balance, from supplying campaign funds, publicity, and assistance of other sorts to sympathetic legislators and bureaucrats?

Just how is fair defined? In the default form of government, the king and his subjects work it out, and it results in the greatest flow of desirables to them. What goes on in a Republic is much more difficult. The well informed, enfranchised voters work it out for their mutual greatest satisfaction.

OK! There is a lot of “rub” in that one – “well-informed, enfranchised voters.” How do you get voters to do the considerable work required to inform themselves? Good question, especially in our hugely complex modern society.

See also:  www.WVsoro.org

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