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Couple sue Southwestern Energy, contractors for continuous trespass

From an Article by Chris Dickerson, West Virginia Record, April 6, 2022

WHEELING – An Ohio County couple have filed a lawsuit alleging an energy company and its contractors continuously trespass on their property adjacent to an oil and gas well pad.

David and Sara Dent filed their complaint April 6 in Ohio Circuit Court against SWN Energy Services Company, Burns Drilling & Excavating Company, Elite Gasfield Services, Halliburton Energy Services, Brownlee Lumber & Supply, Williams Energy Resources and RDR Utility Service Group.

“It is so constant that it has rendered the Dent’s property no longer their own,” attorney Teresa Toriseva said in a press release. “As many of the local residents know, Southwestern Energy is a Texas-based oil and gas corporation.

“In this situation, it is alleged SWN and its contractors have been trespassing on the Dent family’s land for years with no regard for the family’s rights. With no end to this in sight and no response from the oil and gas corporation that it will correct this, these landowners seek a remedy in the courts to regain control of their homestead.”

According to the complaint, the Dents selected their rural property just off GC&P Road near Triadelphia in 2008 for its beauty and tranquility. But in 2012, they say that was destroyed when Southwestern constructed the well pad across from their home.

The plaintiffs say commercial oil and gas trucks servicing the SWN pad trespass on their property to turn themselves around to drive up the access road. “The oil and gas traffic is unrelenting,” the complaint states. “These large trucks trespass on the Dent property every day. The large trucks don’t just turn around, the trucks often sit parked in the Dents’ driveway idling noisily at all hours of the day and night as though they have permission. They do not.

“The Dents, and all West Virginia landowners, have the right to control who is and who is not allowed on their property. This lawsuit seeks damages and to regain that legal control over their property.”

The plaintiffs’ home, according to the complaint, is located at the end of a paved driveway to access the home. The Plaintiffs must travel over a creek bed across a bridge that’s on their property. If this driveway is blocked or unable to be traveled, the plaintiffs are unable to access their home.

“To access the well pad vehicles must travel up a steep and winding hillside on an access roadway to access the well pad,” the complaint states. “As the plaintiffs’ property is across the road from the entrance to the access road, vehicles traveling to the well pad regularly pull into or back down the plaintiffs’ driveway to reposition their vehicle to negotiate the steep access road to the well pad.

“At no time has any of the defendants asked for or received permission from the plaintiffs to enter their property or use their driveway. These vehicles enter plaintiffs’ property without permission and do so at all hours of the night and day without warning or any discernable pattern.”

The Dents say the vehicles could easily travel to a nearby intersection and find a more suitable place to turn around. They say they and their two children under 10 have been awakened countless times by vehicles traveling to the well pad, pulling into their driveway and shining their headlights directly into the home.

As the vehicles often sit and idle in the driveway awaiting clearance to travel to the well pad, the Dents say they have arrived at their property unable to access their own driveway due to vehicles and other equipment either parked in their driveway or blocking their driveway.

“Plaintiffs’ driveway was meant to be an access road to the plaintiffs’ property only, it was not constructed, nor is it maintained to manage heavyweight vehicles,” the complaint states. “At all times relevant hereto the claims made herein the plaintiffs’ property is and has been posted with “No Trespassing” signs and placards.”

The Dents say employees of the defendants have even left their vehicles and trespassed on their property on foot for unknown reasons. In addition to the vehicles blocking and using their driveway, the Dents also say a Williams truck hit their fence, damaging the top rail on July 28, 2021. Another truck left black marks on their driveway as its tires slipped.

And, the Dents say run off from the access road also trespasses upon their property and that black salt used to treat the SWN access road ends up in their yard and the stream in front of their home. They say some large trees have been killed by the run off.

Also, they say when drainpipes are clogged with mud, silt, and other run off, the culvert leading from the access road discharges water violently onto their property and that heavy rains now cause their front yard to turn into a small pond.

To keep up with the damage and erosion, the Dents say they had to buy a tractor to clean the property. “But for the damage to their property associated with the trespass and run off, the plaintiffs would not have been required to spend over $20,000 on a tractor large enough to do the work they needed,” the complaint states.

The Dents say they have talked to SWN officials about the problem, but they say the company “completely disregarded” their concerns and complaints. They accuses the defendants of trespass and nuisance, and they accuse SWN of injury to trees and plants.

“Few concepts are more ‘American’ than the right of landowners to protect their land from unwanted intrusions,” the complaint states, also quoting an 1895 West Virginia ruling in a case styled Haigh v. Bell, which said, “In every case where one man has a right to exclude another from his land, the common law encircles it, if not enclosed already, with an imaginary fence. And to break such imaginary fence, and enter the close of another, is a trespass.”

The Dents seek to have the court enjoin the defendants from trespassing on their property. They request an evidentiary hearing within 10 days whether the emergency temporary restraining order is granted or not. They are being represented by Toriseva, Josh Miller and Michael Kuhn of Toriseva Law in Wheeling. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge David A. Sims.

(Ohio County WV Circuit Court case number 22-C-52)

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