WEST UNION – A jury verdict delivered earlier this month that ordered EQT Production Co. to pay $190,000 to two Doddridge County landowners after the company built a well pad on their land without permission “simply means that the industry will need to negotiate in good faith with surface landowners to obtain the use of their land prior to the commencement of horizontal drilling operations,” David Grubb of The Grubb Law Group told The West Virginia Record.
Beth Crowder and David Wentz, who were represented by Grubb’s firm, sued EQT in the Doddridge Circuit Court, alleging that the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling company built the pad on their land without permission in order to take gas from neighboring properties.
“The court’s ruling affirms the property rights of surface landowners,” Grubb said. “Specifically, a driller has the right to the reasonable use of a surface landowner’s property for the purpose of extracting oil and gas from the mineral estate underlying the surface landowner’s property. However, unless the surface owner provides express permission, this right does not extend to the driller’s use of the surface owner’s property to drill horizontal wells into neighboring tracts.”
Grubb said a driller’s failure to get express permission from the property owner constitutes unlawful trespass.
Although Grubb said his firm is “aware of other instances” in which a company placed a well pad without permission, he said “we do not have any specific information on how widespread this practice is.”
In addition to the legalities related to obtaining permission from landowners to drill on their properties, Grubb said compensating landowners also makes good business sense for Marcellus Shale drilling companies.
“The one well pad located on our clients’ property in Doddridge County is projected by EQT to generate nearly $300 million in revenue over the life of the wells,” Grubb said. “Given this level of revenue, the industry can afford to pay surface landowners a fair and reasonable rental value for the use of their land.”