(09/06/2001)
Bob Weaver

Facing the possibility of a deep well drilling boom in Sunny Cal with about 70 permits being issued, concerns have been raised by local residents regarding their rights as land and royalty owners.

Certainly the Calhoun Commission has serious concerns about the taxation of deep wells and how that money could benefit the people of the county. Most of the domain over taxation of oil and gas has been taken away from the counties and now resides in Charleston. Counties are mostly collection agencies for the taxes.

There are several legal concerns attached to the rights of royalty owners which requires investigation, in addition to owners of surface.

A recent publication has been put together by lawyer David McMahon for people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. The 115-page "Surface Owner's Guide To Oil and Gas," describes what landowners can do when a drilling company is moving to their property.

"Some drillers may not want surface owners to know all the law and the leverage of landowners. "Be careful, sometimes they bluff," said McMahon. "The law has traditionally favored the mineral owner over the landowner."

Landowners can have considerable say on location of roads, protection from abandoned roads and well sites and fairer compensation for the use of the property.

The laws and regulations are stacked against county governments, local land and royalty owners, particularly favoring large corporate producers and holding companies. Myriad's of complicated formulas, concessions and regulations adopted by state government and passed down, require critical evaluation. The problems are much less with local oil and gas producers, who tend to be better neighbors. Local producers generally pay their fair share of taxes.

Tax breaks and concessions given in the name of economic stability or development have mostly been unproductive shams, according to several recent West Virginia studies.

If the system was fair to ordinary guys, counties like Calhoun, having pumped multi-millions of dollars out of the state, would not be worried about infrastructure, jobs and maintaining essential services. The State of Alaska developed an equalization system which benefits the people of the state, including not paying any income taxes. The corporate giants have not gone broke.

McDowell County, one of the most depressed areas I have ever been, has produced more coal than any place in America. If fairness be evident, it does not show its face there. More often than not, laws and regulations in West Virginia, have allowed the rape of natural resources, with citizens unable to fight back.

Low-income people can request McMahon's printed text version of his book by calling 800-642-8279, or a hard copy can be purchased for $10 to WV Legal Services Plan, 992 Quarrier Street E., Suite 550, Charleston WV 25301. It is full of information that many people in deep well drilling counties might need to know.

Friday, as President of the Calhoun Commission, I will be going to the Economic Development Summit in Flatwoods, sponsored by several West Virginia groups, including county governments, state and county educational agencies. Several members of the Calhoun County Board of Education will also be attending. Some of the issues may be brought to a roundtable discussion.


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