(02/02/2009)
McDowell County Circuit Judge Rudolph Murensky has taken over litigation that will sort out rights to gas royalties all over West Virginia.

At stake is who gets the money in the complicated struggle.

On January 14, Murensky yanked a royalty lawsuit away from Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky and consolidated it with a similar suit in his court.

Both suits oppose drilling permits that the West Virginia Oil and Gas Commission granted to Chesapeake Appalachia, Eastern American Energy and Petroedge Resources.

The WV Oil and Gas commission approved deep well permits, although the companies would drill them to a depth that would normally require shallow well permits, according to the Wiiliamson Daily News.

The tactic granted by the commission is certainly special treatment, because the companies would drill down to the deep zone and then drill up to the shallow zone.

Huge sums depend on the distinctions approved, because royalties from deep wells go to gas owners while royalties from shallow wells go to property owners.

The structure of regulation hinges on the distinction too, for the commission doesn't regulate shallow wells.

The Shallow Well Gas Review Board does that.

Depth also matters because it determines spacing, another controversial issue in West Virginia.

Last June, the Blue Eagle Land group sued the Oil and Gas Commission in McDowell County.

Last July, the WV Surface Owners sued the Oil and Gas Commission in Kanawha County.

The Blue Eagle Land group asked Murensky to transfer the Kanawha County suit to McDowell County, and the surface owners asked Stucky for the opposite.

Murensky held a hearing, Stucky didn't, and Murensky took charge, reports the Williamson News.

"There is no dispute that plaintiff's petition for appeal is properly before this Court by a proper party," he wrote. "There is some dispute as to whether Organization's appeal in Kanawha County is proper."

Although the surface owners claimed the Supreme Court gave them standing to sue, he wrote, the Blue Eagle Land group disputed the interpretation.

He wrote that "issues before the courts can be more expeditiously resolved without the hassle of having to litigate the issue of standing."

The suit comes on the heals of a multi-million dollar decision against gas producers in Roane County, after the outfits decided to charge production costs against money that was to be received by royalty holders.


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