Pipeline dispute at root of Monongalia court case

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A local natural gas producer and a Monongalia County landowner are involved in a legal dispute over a pipeline that travels across the landowner’s property.

Northeast Natural Energy, based in Charleston with a Morgantown satellite office, sued Edward Sine, of Mount Harmon Road, Fairview, in March 2018. Northeast wants the court to declare its pipeline easement valid and enforceable, and to prohibit Sine from interfering with its access.

The case is in Mon County Circuit Court.

Sine filed a counterclaim in the same suit, alleging Northeast deliberately deviated from the agreed-to pipeline route, depriving him of the opportunity to build a new home, and subsequently damaging his land when a spill occurred on the portion of the line that deviated from the route.

The Dominion Post reviewed the entire case file and talked with Sine during a visit to his property — 21 acres off Mount Harmon Road. Sine’s attorney, Roger Cutright, declined to comment on the active case.

Brett Loflin, Northeast’s vice president of regulatory affairs, said he could not comment on the litigation but addressed the remediation plan for the spill, which will be noted further down.

Sine explained during the visit that he’s a truck driver who’s worked in the oil and gas industry, and drove for a company servicing Northeast when the company approached him in for a pipeline easement and right-of-way across his property. The line was intended to convey water between Northeast’s Kassay and Mepco well pads, in order to keep water trucks off the roads.

He was initially reluctant, but he and his ex-wife, Melody, also named in the suit, finally agreed and signed the initial easement in January 2017. In February, Northeast bought the easement, paying Sine and Melody $11,115 each.

Pipeline construction began that October and concluded in November. Sine told The Dominion Post that one day he discovered workers up at the site doing some reclamation and saw that the pipeline was not where he expected it to be. One worker showed him a map, which appeared wrong.

“‘You might be on that map,’” he said, “‘but that’s not the map I agreed to,’ and I showed them my paperwork.”

A map in the filings shows the agreed-to route, a straight line running east and west. Another line shows the actual route: nearly halfway across it takes a 45-degree turn north, then takes a 45-degree turn east and about four-fifths of the way across bends back south to rejoin the agreed-to route. About 400-500 feet veer from the agreed-to route.

Northeast says in the suit that it offered Sine additional money, which he refused, then offered to remove and reclaim the deviated line, which he also refused. So in March 2018, Northeast sued Sine and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent him from interfering with its pipeline use and access.

Sine’s initial counterclaim alleged Northeast’s route deviation was intentional and asked the court to order the pipeline removed, to restore the property, bar Northeast from further entry and award damages.

In April, Judge Russell Clawges oversaw an agreement with the properties to allow Northeast limited access to the line while the suit played out.

In August, Sine filed an amended counterclaim, adding that the deviated pipeline passed directly through the building site for his planned new home, of which he’d staked out and informed Northeast. He amended it again in April this year to include the spill of fresh and produced water, which occurred in September 2018.

Sine alleges in the suit the spill involved several hundred thousand gallons of water. The spill site was dry the day The Dominion Post visited it, but Sine said it killed trees and plants in its path.
“I didn’t know what all was going on, but I had a good indication. I never dreamed it was going to be as bad as what it was when I got up here,” he said.

Foam was forming on the line, Sine said. He poked it with a stick and it was hard like Styrofoam. The spill was up on the hill but sometimes reached their home down in the holler. “It would just take your breath away.”

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Terry Fletcher said in an email exchange that DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas issued a Notice of Violation to Northeast for the spill and required Northeast to submit a remediation plan.

“The OOG approved NNE’s proposed plan and cleared them to start remediating the area,” Fletcher said. “However, Mr. Sine’s attorney subsequently contacted the WVDEP and NNE and asked to have a third party review the remediation plan and for no remediation work to be done until the review is complete. NNE sent the plan to Mr. Sine and his team, and is awaiting their feedback.”

Loflin said that Sine and Cutright have had the plan for a couple weeks and Northeast expects to begin remediation within the next two to three weeks.

Sine said on the day of the visit he’d received the plan about a week before. It involves drilling holes and injecting chemicals to flush the spilled water out of the soil. He’s still considering it.

In April, Sine moved to have the judge — now Debra Scudiere — suspend the April 2017 order granting Northeast limited access to the site, alleging that Northeast planned the route the pipeline actually took seven months before construction began. In May, Northeast filed its opposition to Sine’s motion.

To date, there has been no ruling on Sine’s motion.

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