Make companies pay

How big is the oil and gas industry in West Virginia?

Just looking at lawsuits and penalties some companies have been forced to pay gives you a glimpse:

* A lawsuit that was set to go to trial in late February, was settled in the amount of $53 million, on behalf of royalty owners who claimed to have been shorted over the years by EQT;

* In 2007, a lawsuit was settled for similar egregious behavior in the amount of $400 million. Obviously the industry didn’t learn its lesson or didn’t care to lose that kind of money;

* An elderly Ritchie County couple recently sued EQT and had to go to court to get their full royalties. They won $192,000. Glad they lived long enough to collect it.

* Recently, Antero was ordered to pay $3.15 million in fines for polluting water in Doddridge County. A column in the Parkersburg News on Feb. 15, referred to this fine as a “stiff price to pay.” Hardly. To Antero, $3 million is chicken feed.

For these large oil and gas companies, lawsuits and pollution fines are simply a “cost of doing business.” They factor it into the price of every barrel of oil or “mcf” of gas they sell.

They are making billions of dollars, make no mistake about that.

Anyone who doesn’t believe that West Virginia (and its people) should be making sure to get every penny they deserve from these companies, before they pack up and move on, leaving our state a disaster, hasn’t been paying attention.

Sad that state lawmakers have not been able to pass legislation seeking more accurate auditing of exactly how much oil and gas is being taken out of the ground so that proper severance taxes and royalties can be paid.

But then, this is the way that coal operators have been operating for more than a hundred years. The coal companies are responsible for reporting how many tons of coal they remove from our mountains. You can bet the figures they give are drastically lower than the real numbers.

If West Virginia does not hold the oil, gas (and coal) operators’ feet to the fire, we will have no one to blame but ourselves and the elected officials whom we elected (and who ended up in the pockets of these companies), when the “boom” is over and we are left with roads that are a disaster, rivers and streams that are dead, and no new schools or new water systems for future generations to use.

Roger Sheppard

Davisville

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