Gas drilling companies ask to have suit over land lease transferred

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jun 13, 2012

WHEELING - Two gas drilling companies being sued by a Brooke County couple over a land lease asked this week to have the lawsuit moved to federal court.

Defendants Chesapeake Appalachia LLC, based in Oklahoma, and Statoil USA Onshore Properties Inc., based in Texas, filed their notice of removal in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia Monday.

The plaintiffs, Ramon and Lois Bowen, sued Chesapeake, Statoil and Range Resources-Appalachia LLC, which is based in Pennsylvania, in May in Brooke County Circuit Court.

The Bowens are seeking declaratory relief and unspecified amount of compensatory damages and punitive damages for alleged "economic loss, slander of title, loss of use of their land, lost opportunity, lost profits, aggravation and inconvenience, along with all available interest, costs, attorney fees, fines and penalties."

The Bowens, being represented by Dan Guida of Weirton and Jon Turak of Moundsville, are claiming a breach of implied covenants, the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act, unjust enrichment, unlawful holding-over, slander of title, trespass, tort of outrage and civil conspiracy.

According to the Bowens' complaint, they entered into an oil and gas lease with Great Lakes Energy Partners LLC, now known as Range Resources, leasing their oil and gas interests to 53.10 acres of land.

The lease subsequently was assigned to Chesapeake -- 73.12 percent -- and Statoil -- 26.88 percent.

Under the deal the Bowens signed in 2007, they received $50 per acre, rental payments of $7 per year and a 14 percent interest in royalties.

Now, the couple -- who claim the amounts are so low "as to shock the conscience" -- want a judge to declare the lease expired and punish the companies they allege took advantage of them.

In their notice of removal, Chesapeake and Statoil argue that federal court is the more appropriate venue since the matter in controversy exceeds $75,000 and the cases arises between citizens of different states.

"If judgment is entered against defendants and the plaintiffs' lease is declared null and void, the value to Chesapeake, at a minimum, would be the cost to re-acquire the leased premises at prevailing market rates and the costs associated with the delayed development of the leased premises," the two companies explained in their eight-page filing.

"If judgment is entered against defendants and the plaintiffs' lease is declared null and void, and Chesapeake is unable to re-acquire the leased premises, the value to Chesapeake would be the loss of the value of development of the leased premises."

Kevin C. Abbott and Nicolle R. Snyder Bagnell of Pittsburgh law firm Reed Smith LLP are representing Chesapeake and Statoil in the matter.

None of the companies has filed a response to the Bowens' complaint yet.

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