WV Surface Owners Win Important Case Against EQT re Drill Pad

A West Virginia Circuit Court case decided last week (by jury) found in favor of surface owners against a well pad constructed by EQT. The decision has far-reaching implications for not only surface owners and drillers, but mineral rights owners too. From the first time we read about so-called “joint development” legislation being promoted by the drilling industry in WV (back in February), we’ve not been fans (see More on WV’s Push for “Joint Development” Instead of Forced Pooling). In brief, there are a number of existing old leases in WV, signed before shale drilling began, that prevents drillers from drilling a horizontal well across an individual property boundary line–until a new lease is signed. Joint development says if the driller already owns the leases on all adjoining properties they want to combine into a drilling unit, they can do so without signing a new lease. The proposed joint development law seemed to us to be a way for drillers to avoid negotiating and paying more for new leases–which they should be willing to do! However, the case of Crowder and Wentz v EQT puts joint development in a new light for us. The case appears (to us) to be an abuse of power by surface owners against both drillers and mineral rights owners–by using the current prohibition against joint development. We certainly understand why surface rights owners would resist having a drill pad on their property, however, that’s life. They bought land (or inherited it, etc.) that doesn’t have mineral rights attached. Under existing WV law, a well pad can be drilled, taking 10-15 acres of the surface land (against the surface landowner’s wishes, but with compensation), in order to access the minerals under that specific piece of property. However, the court ruled last week in Crowder and Wentz v EQT that a driller cannot then use that same already-constructed well pad to further drill wells that access minerals under other, adjacent properties. Which in our book makes a strong case for a joint development law, to avoid this kind of misuse by surface landowners…

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