WV Rights/Pooling Case May have Big Impact on Shale Industry

A court case from Marshall County, WV decided in April 2016 is heading to the WV Supreme Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court). The stakes in Contraguerro v Gastar Exploration could not be higher for the Marcellus industry in the Mountain State. In brief, 70 years ago a 106-acre track of property was sold. The sellers retained a one-quarter “non-participating interest” in the oil and gas rights. That means the buyer got to decide when/if to lease the property for drilling, and if so, has the right to negotiate the price, etc. The remaining one-quarter non-participating interest holders would get royalties, but nothing else. Fast forward several generations and the heirs of the original sellers didn’t even know they owned an interest in the land until contacted by Gastar, which needed a signature in order to send them checks for royalties. The heirs decided to sue to stop the deal, either in a bid to negotiate a better deal or perhaps because they don’t like fossil fuels. Who knows? The case went to the Circuit Court of Marshall County and a judge there found in favor of the heirs–giving them, and by extension any minority rights owner, the power to stop lease deals. An unmitigated mess that threatens many lease deals because divided rights ownership is common in WV. Perhaps this case was part of the motivation to pass a new law this year addressing “co-tenancy” (see Analysis of New WV Bill SB 576 re Co-Tenancy & Joint Development). The co-tenancy law, if passed, means if there are multiple owners for the mineral rights under a property, you would only need a simple majority of those owners to approve a drilling lease. Currently, if one person with a teeny tiny share objects, it stops the process. In the Contraguerro case, although the heirs are owners, they are “non-participating”–so they should not have had a say anyway. However, a lower court judge found otherwise. So the case was appealed and is now before to the WV Supreme Court…

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