WEIRTON -- With new Marcellus Shale law coming into play, landowners have to learn new rules and regulations in addition to the standard issues that go along with working with such exploration.
Three northern Panhandle law firms are working together to make sure these landowners know their rights.
The law firms of Gold, Khourey & Turak, Rokisky & Associates and the Guida Law Offices have set up a Marcellus and Utica Shale hotline and are representing West Virginia and Ohio landowners. The three responsible attorneys at the respective firms are Jon Turak, Jeffrey Rokisky and Dan Guida.
Guida said the firms are combining their experience, knowledge and resources to help landowners with problems related to oil and gas leasing, exploration and drilling issues. That includes lease disputes, lease negotiations, fraud, gas rights ownership issues, pipeline and easement issues and pooling issues.
"When these gas and leasing companies went in, they had hundreds of leases signed," Guida said. "Those are legal agreements.There are lots of provisions in the contracts, and it's difficult for most people to read and understand all of it.
"Some of the mineral rights owners might have only concerned with upfront money and royalty payments. They didn't care about a lot of the provisions. Now, they see what's going on and how they're being treated by gas companies, and they're pulling those leases back out and saying, 'Oh, that's how that works. I didn't realize that was going to happen.' They're reading them with more scrutiny now.
"There are a lot of disputes on what certain terms mean. Some are inconsistent with other terms in the lease. I think we're right at the beginning of a lot of suits trying to resolve the legal issues that arise from these contracts."
Guida said the bottom line is that there is a lot of money on the line.
"Property owners have disagreements with other property owners," he said. "Heirs or people in the chain of title saying, 'I think I have a right to those royalty payments.'That's now starting to percolate up."
Guida said the hotline has received a lot of calls, particularly about pooling.
"One suit has been filed, and we're working on having 10 to 15 more filed by Christmas," he said. "And there are dozens more behind that. Hancock County, some in Brooke, Marshall, Ohio counties, some in the state of Ohio.
"It's just getting started. It will take many years to understand what rights the landowners have. And remember, about 4-5 years ago, gas and leasing companies signed up a lot of the property. Now, those leases are coming due. And the landowners want renegotiate.
"Plus, there are a lot of issues that are just totally unresolved. There was just such a rush to get all of these contracts signed and get people under lease. They did that, and they were successful.
Guida said the issues are so large that the three law firms could, conceivably, devote all of their time to Marcellus Shale matters. Now, he said, there are at least two attorneys among the three firms essentially devoting 100 percent of their time to the project.
"It's like any other specialty in law," he said. "You have to retool your office to represent these people. This is an area of the law that requires a lot of expertise. I think we're the first to cooperatively work with one another and pursue these cases. But still, you can't just take every case that calls in.
"This is not your typical oil and gas business. Marcellus Shale is just a different animal. It's much broader based. This gas is underneath all the properties."
Guida's firm is based in Weirton, Rokisky's in Wheeling and Turak's in Moundsville. The number for the hotline is 800-388-2529.