(02/15/2019)
By Bob Weaver

History is said to repeat itself, but sometimes the continuum never misses a beat when it comes to America's extractors, and in the Mountain State, folks generally hunker down when it comes to a job.

A new class action lawsuit against EQT Production Company, that was originally filed in 2013 in Doddridge County, and moved on to U.S. District Court, may be coming to an end.

This week, EQT announced that a tentative settlement had been reached with the West Virginia landowners who filed the suit.

The suit was focused around disputes over natural gas royalty payments between 2009 and 2017.

Royalty owners called it cheating.

Under the tentative settlement, EQT has agreed to put $53.5 million into a fund that would disperse payments to the royalty owners. EQT has also agreed to stop taking future post production deductions on leases determined by the Court to not permit deductions.

EQT and class representatives also agreed that future royalty payments will be based on a "clearly defined index pricing methodology."

Don't hold your breath.

If this sounds familiar, West Virginia's biggest class action lawsuit against gas extractors was filed in Roane County, led by an unhappy royalty owner Garrison Tawney.

"It's hard just to sit here and get it put to you," the late Tawney told the Hur Herald.

Jurors in 2007 said Columbia Natural Resources LLC and two other associated companies must pay about 8,000 plaintiffs $405 million.

The jury found that Columbia cheated royalty owners by $134.3 million and should be paid $271 million more in punitive damages.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the suit should be a clear message to producers that changing the rules and cheating does not pay-off.

"It makes it clear that companies who have a special relationship with royalty owners that they have to treat them fairly," said Charleston lawyer Mike Carey.

The companies attorneys said the 2007 decision was unfair and could cripple West Virginia's energy industry, including a loss of jobs.

Some extractors never missed a beat after that decision, maybe refining the small print, and continued to extract production costs from a new generation of royalty owners.

A major nationwide lobbying effort naming states as "judicial hellholes" was launched, particularly in West Virginia.

Those corporations didn't like those big court judgments, and part of the current lobbying efforts is to force royalty owners to enter into remediation rather than sue.

Those royalty owners would have to hire never-ending attornies for lengthy remediation.

Now comes this latest $53 million decision for royalty holders, the big corps now saying they have learned their lesson.

It would be unwise to count on their deference.

Perhaps the biggest break being sought in West Virginia is the Republican legislators push to do away with the longtime "inventory tax," a source of income for many West Virginia counties.

That tax is primarily on equipment, pipelines, and facilities.

Lobbyists and legislators are using a prize, it would also eliminate taxes on personal cars and trucks, and would be voted upon as a constitutional amendment.

In Calhoun, it would eliminate $1 million taxes annually that would bolster Calhoun schools and services.

The gas companies are saying again if they don't have their way, West Virginia will be left behind.

West Virginians should know by now how to be left behind.

Also this week, a U.S. District Court ordered Princeton-based XMV Inc., to pay nearly $1.5 million in back wages and damages to workers at three underground coal mines. Following an investigation by the Department of Labor, the ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia impacts some 214 workers.


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