The West Virginia Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court's ruling that would allow Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to develop oil and natural gas wells in a state park.
At issue in the case was a June 2009 ruling issued by the Circuit Court of Logan County, which vacated an order by the West Virgina Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Office of Oil and Gas denying the issuance of five oil and natural gas well drilling permits.to Cabot Oil & Gas to develop wells in Logan State Park.
The circuit court ruled that the DEP Office of Oil and Gas' reliance on West Virginia code governing the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources' (DNR) actions, "was misplaced and was not a valid basis upon which to deny the subject permits." The DEP Office of Oil and Gas, the DNR, the Sierra Club and Friends of Blackwater appealed the circuit ruling to the high court.
Cabot sought the well work permits in November 2007; the DEP Office of Oil and Gas denied the request a month later, prompting Cabot to appeal the case to the circuit court.
The controversy involves a 1960 deed between the Lawson heirs and the Logan Civic Association, and legislation that was enacted after the deed's execution in 1961. In November 1960 the Lawson heirs conveyed 3,271 acres of surface land and coal to the Logan Civic Association for $90,000, and explicitly reserved the property's oil and gas rights as well as the ability to drill wells for the extraction and production of the resources. The land ultimately became Logan State Park.
The "pivotal question" in the appeal is: "Does the statutory provision prohibiting the DNR from authorizing mineral exploitation within West Virginia state parks -- i.e., W. Va. Code 20-5-2(b)(8) -- preclude the issuance of well permits for which Cabot has applied? Simply stated, the answer is 'No.' We find that [the state code] has no preclusive effect upon the requested permits herein insofar as this statutory language was enacted after the 1960 deed conveying the subject property was executed," the high court said.
"Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court's ruling finding the DEP Office of Oil and Gas' reliance on W. Va. Code 20-5-2(b)(8) to be misplaced because such statute was not [in] effect at the time of, nor does it govern, the 1960 deed. We further affirm the circuit court's order directing the DEP Office of Oil and Gas to grant Cabot the five well permits it requests to allow Cabot to develop the oil and natural gas reserves by the Lawson heirs in their 1960 deed," the court said.
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