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Supreme Court to rule on natural gas drilling nuisance question

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Supreme Court will make a much-anticipated decision in the coming months on the issue of natural gas drilling and whether the process is a public nuisance.

The Court heard an hour of oral arguments Tuesday on an appeal by a group of Harrison County property owners that claim horizontal drilling by Antero Resources is a nuisance. The plaintiffs lost in the lower court. The state’s Mass Litigation Panel found summary judgment in favor of Antero.

Anthony Majestro

Plaintiff’s attorney Anthony Majestro argued Tuesday normal life has been disrupted.

“These trucks are going by 100-a-day, 24-hours-a day. They are parked in front of my clients’ houses. Their engines are running, the big 18 wheelers, the hisses and noises, fumes coming off. That’s one of the primary causes of the nuisance,” Majestro said.

Monongalia County Circuit Judge Russell Clawges, appointed as a temporary justice for the case, asked Antero attorney W. Henry Lawrence if the panel’s ruling basically gives the drilling company a green light no matter what.

“Does not the panel’s order basically give your clients carte blanche to do whatever they want to, whenever they want to, however they want to, no matter what affect it may have on these plaintiffs?

Monongalia Circuit Judge Russell Clawges

“No,” Lawrence said. “The panel looked at the evidence presented to them and said the plaintiffs have not offered expert testimony that indicates that these activities are unreasonable or unnecessary in development of these minerals.”

Majestro said because it’s horizontal drilling, there’s no guarantee property owners are being properly compensated for what they have to endure.

“Most of this drilling that’s being done and this nuisance that’s being created is being conducted to get gas that is not under my client’s property,” Majestro said.

The plaintiffs want their nuisance claims to go before a jury.

W. Henry Lawrence

Lawrence said the panel looked through hundreds of pages of discovery in the case before making its decision. He said there were initial claims of contamination, physical damage and personal injury. He said the plaintiffs eventually withdraw their negligence claim. There were originally 22 plaintiffs and now there are seven.

“None of these plaintiffs had well pads on their properties. There were several plaintiffs in the initial case (that did),” Lawrence said.

Majestro said the case should go before a jury and let it decide if drilling activities can cause a nuisance. He said there’s no doubt his clients have been negatively impacted.

“There’s testimony the clients can’t sleep. There’s testimony they can’t sit on their front porch and talk. In addition, we have odors, fumes from these trucks that are burning diesel while they are parked around my client’s house and driving by,” Majestro said.

Lawrence said the wells in question are about 10 years old and represent some of Antero’s first wells in Harrison County. The lawsuits were originally filed in late 2013.

Two members of the Supreme Court, Justice Tim Armstead and Justice John Hutchison disqualified themselves from hearing the case. They were replaced by Clawges and Cabell County Circuit Judge Greg Howard.

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