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Ohio Utica Shale

EQT sues six West Virginia landowners in federal court

By Bob Downing Published: October 1, 2013

From the Associated Press:

EQT Corp. is suing six West Virginia property owners who subverted the company's plans to put five gas wells on a 1,000-acre farm by sinking water wells on the site first.

Under state law, gas companies can't drill within 250 feet of an existing water well or spring used for human consumption.

Landowner Charles Heaster says he plans to build a cabin on the site, and he doesn't want EQT to destroy another 50 acres of his cattle farm near West Union.

"They told us in 2008 they were going to drill, and they've been coming and going ever since. They tell you they're going to drill, then they tell you they're not going to drill," Heaster said Thursday. "We can't wait forever. So we did drill the wells."

Heaster got the water well permit in April, and he says EQT notified him of its intention to drill in August.

Now Pennsylvania-based EQT wants a judge to issue an injunction ordering the landowners to plug and abandon the water well, and drop their construction plans for the cabin.

Its lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg, says EQT told Heaster and two other families in July 2012 that it wanted to drill, and no water wells were present at the site at the time.

Nor was a water well present in July 2013, EQT said. But on Sept. 13, workers discovered two water wells near the site of its planned gas well pad.

EQT says the defendants only drilled to stop the gas wells, and they acted "with unclean hands." It calls their actions improper and unlawful.

EQT contends it faces "severe and irreparable harm and damages" because of its investments in permitting and site preparation. It also argues it is being denied "the peaceful enjoyment of its property rights" under its valid lease for the oil and gas below the Heasters' farm.

Heaster doesn't deny that he put the water well in to control the fate of his land, complaining that EQT planned to lop the top 45 feet off the hill next to his house and build a sixth road to the drilling site.

But he says EQT faces a bigger obstacle over a right of way issue: About 18 months ago, he sold a right of way for a pipeline to Colorado-based Antero Resources. EQT won't be able to access the site without crossing that right of way, he said.

Heaster has embraced the opportunities created by the booming gas industry in north-central West Virginia.

About 40 percent of his farm has been disturbed already, he said, and he has productive relationships with six gas companies that have drilled or plan to drill a total of 35 wells.

But Heaster said he doesn't like how EQT treats him, routinely coming onto his land without warning or explanation. Other companies are more courteous and cooperative, he said.

"Those gas line people, they tell you what they're going to do. They sit down with you, and they offer you a fair price," he said. With EQT, "from the time they set foot on the property to the time they leave, it's a fight."

"I'm not going to argue with them. I'll go to court," Heaster said. "Why do they have use of our farm and we don't?"

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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.