From the time the natural gas industry first stepped into the Marcellus Shale region, they have claimed to be “good neighbors”. In July 2014, the American Petroleum Institute (API) published a “first-of-its-kind industry standard for community engagement in areas of the country where horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have opened new energy development opportunities.”
Dubbed ANSI/API Bulletin 100-3, the standard provides a detailed list of steps that oil and natural companies can take to help local leaders and residents prepare for energy exploration, minimize interruption to the community, and manage resources. It includes recommendations for how to conduct public meetings on safety, work with local educational institutions to discuss training for new job opportunities, develop relationships with mineral owners, and ensure that oil and gas production is done in way that complements community goals.
The API “good neighbor” standard states:
The industry’s commitment to being a good neighbor throughout the full project life cycle requires ongoing dialogue with local communities and other key stakeholders. Stakeholders, for use of the Community Engagement Guidelines, are defined as:
Any person, group or entity that has interest or concern in an organization and its activities is considered a stakeholder. Stakeholders can affect or be affected by the organization’s actions, objectives and policies
David Miller, API Director of Standards, stated “API’s community engagement guidelines will serve as a gold standard for good neighbor policies that address community concerns, enhance the long-term benefits of local development, and ensure a two-way conversation regarding mutual goals for community growth.”
Important to note – this is an industry trade group standard. It is not an ordinance, regulation or law, therefore compliance is strictly voluntary.
Most communities have ordinances or laws in place to address nuisances, defined as an interference with the right to use and enjoy real property. Pro-natural gas supporters often say that they have the right to do what they want with their property. However, a property owner doesn’t have the absolute right to use her land any way they can imagine. Such a right would be impossible because one person’s right to do whatever they wanted on their land would sometimes conflict with another person’s rights.
A nuisance is an unreasonable interference with a person’s use and enjoyment of her property. Many types of activities may be nuisances, especially ones that cause the following:
- Dust and smoke
- Pollution of air or water
- Bugs, rodents, and other pests
- Explosions and other vibrations
None of these identified nuisances stop at a property line.
WEST VIRGINIANS FIGHT BACK
Fed up with noise, air, and water pollution, traffic and debris from the natural gas industry activities in their neighborhoods, 100+ residents in Harrison, Doddridge, Pleasants, Kanawha, Ritchie, Marion, and Monongalia counties have filed nuisance claims against several companies including Colorado-based Antero Resources, West Virginia-based Hall Drilling, and Pennsylvania-based EQT.
Attorney and co-founder of the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization, Dave McMahon explained that these nuisance suits aren’t very common.
“That’s because there’s often not enough money in one nuisance case for a lawyer to be able to bring the case on a contingent-fee basis,” McMahon said. “And very few people living out there in the country have the money to pay a good lawyer and hourly-basis to bring one of these cases.”
These cases are being heard through the West Virginia Mass Litigation Panel.
Mass Litigation is defined as:
Rule 26.04. Definitions. For purposes of this Rule, the following definitions apply:
(a)”Mass Litigation” — Two (2) or more civil actions pending in one or more circuit courts:
(1) involving common questions of law or fact in mass accidents or single catastrophic events in which a number of people are injured; or
(2) involving common questions of law or fact in “personal injury mass torts” implicating numerous claimants in connection with widely available or mass-marketed products and their manufacture, design, use, implantation, ingestion, or exposure; or
(3) involving common questions of law or fact in “property damage mass torts” implicating numerous claimants in connection with claims for replacement or repair of allegedly defective products, including those in which claimants seek compensation for the failure of the product to perform as intended with resulting damage to the product itself or other property, with or without personal injury overtones; or
(4) involving common questions of law or fact in “economic loss” cases implicating numerous claimants asserting defect claims similar to those in property damage circumstances which are in the nature of consumer fraud or warranty actions on a grand scale including allegations of the existence of a defect without actual product failure or injury; or
(5) involving common questions of law or fact regarding harm or injury allegedly caused to numerous claimants by multiple defendants as a result of alleged nuisances or similar property damage causes of action.
Assuming no out of court settlement is reached; these cases are expected to take more than a year, with a trial date set for May 16, 2016.
Legal Partners involved in the mass litigation suits are:
- Speer Law Firm, Kansas City, MO
- HPCB&D: Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler, Charlston, WV
- Powell & Majestro, Charlston, WV
Dave McMahon, of West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization, is not the lawyer filing THESE cases, but he was present when the cases were filed in the state and compiled into a mass litigation suit.
McMahon says this kind of legal action is the only recourse people have.
© 2015 by Dory Hippauf