(09/22/2009)
By Bob Weaver

Several environmental groups and a former state parks chief want to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit over natural gas drilling at Chief Logan State Park.

Former WV state parks chief Cordie Hudkins, the Highlands Conservancy, the Friends of Blackwater, and the Sierra Club are joining to protect the state's parks from extraction, saying it will end in "wholesale exploitation."

Following major efforts by the federal government during the Bush years to open national parks and national wilderness areas to extraction, including the Mon Forest, the issue has come to West Virginia's parks, considered by many as natural treasures.

Hudkins and the environmental groups are asking state courts to protect the state's pristine areas.

Earlier this year, a judge overruled the state Department of Environmental Protection's denial of a drilling permit sought by Cabot Oil & Gas Co.

Houston-based Cabot is seeking DEP approval for nearly three dozen new gas wells to extract gas from under the 3,600-acre park. The company holds lease agreements for the gas, which is owned by the heirs of Anthony Lawson, one of the first English settlers of what is now Logan County.

In 2007, then-DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer rejected Cabot's proposal, citing a state law that prohibits the state Division of Natural Resources from allowing "extraction of minerals ... on or under any state park."

Cabot and the Lawson heirs have argued that deeds in which the family donated land for the park specifically kept for the family the mineral rights under the park. They've also argued that DNR has allowed drilling on park land.

Environmental groups are claiming a dark cloud is looming over the parks, saying the wealthiest oil and gas drilling companies in the country are now demanding that West Virginia open them up to drilling gas wells and developing gas fields.

In West Virginia, if history repeats, the parks are at risk.


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