The West Virginia Supreme Court has affirmed a ruling that found a group of landowners failed to demonstrate how Antero Resources Corp.’s operations have created a nuisance and ruined the quality of life in the Harrison County area.
The case was filed in 2013, and the Circuit Court of Ohio County in 2017 ruled in favor of Antero, finding it was entitled to benefit from the surface and subsurface rights it held in the area, along with other agreements for road use and pipeline easements. The lower court found that the plaintiffs failed to offer admissible evidence to show that using their properties exceeded the agreements they had signed with the producer.
In a narrow 3-2 decision, the state’s high court agreed. Justice Evan Jenkins writing for the majority said Antero and contractor Hall Drilling LLC obtained leases and other agreements that entitled them to do what was “reasonably necessary” to develop the reserves.
“They have failed to present evidence that the activities of which they complain are not reasonably necessary for Antero and Hall to develop the Marcellus Shale, and they also have failed to present evidence that they are being substantially burdened by these activities, which arise from the extraction of oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale using wells that are not located on their properties, and that have caused no damage to their surface estates,” Jenkins wrote.
The landowners alleged that Antero’s operations had caused significant damage that has prevented them from enjoying their lives, homes and property. The plaintiffs complained of heavy truck traffic, diesel fumes, vibrations, damage to trees/vegetation, as well as excessive lights, noise, dust and disrespectful behavior by the company’s crews.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Margaret Workman said the court avoided the primary legal question in the case of whether Antero’s work constituted a nuisance. The landowners’ attorneys claimed that the case could have had far reaching implications in the state because hundreds of similar cases have been filed against the industry.
The ruling came one week after another from the state’s high court found producers needed clear permission from surface rights owners to site well pads on their land to extract natural gas from nearby properties. While that decision is expected to have little impact on the industry’s operations, it could find producers paying more to develop acreage.
In West Virginia, mineral and surface rights are severed and may be under different ownership, which has created competing interests over the years as unconventional drilling has boomed.
Antero is one of Appalachia’s most active gas producers and has become one of the nation’s largest natural gas liquids operators thanks in part to its wet acreage in West Virginia, where it is primarily focused.