This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

December 14, 2007

DEP rejects drilling in park

State law cited barring mineral ‘extraction’

By Ken Ward Jr.
Staff writer

West Virginia regulators have rejected a proposal by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to begin drilling nearly three dozen new natural gas wells inside Chief Logan State Park.

The state Department of Environmental Protection turned down Cabot’s first five permit applications for the park in Logan County.

Agency officials cited a state law that prohibits “extraction of minerals ... on or under any state park.”

DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer issued the permit-denial order on Wednesday and made the decision public Thursday afternoon.

Cabot could appeal Timmermeyer’s decision to circuit court, said DEP general counsel Ray Franks.

Thomas S. Liberatore, vice president and regional manager for Cabot, said the company is likely to do that and pursue a lawsuit to seek compensation for lost gas revenues.

“We’re disappointed in the state’s regulatory agency that they’ve denied our permit applications,” Liberatore said.

“We’re examining our due-process options and will be taking the appropriate steps shortly,” he said, “but exactly the approach we’re going to do, how we’re going to approach that, we’re not prepared to say yet.”

Cabot officials want to get at 300 million to 500 million cubic feet of natural gas 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.

However, the company’s proposal has broad implications, including the possibility of opening up other West Virginia state parks to oil and gas drilling.

Cabot officials and a lawyer for the Lawson heirs have threatened to file a “takings” lawsuit to recoup millions of dollars for the worth of the natural gas under the park.

When it announced its drilling plan last month, Cabot said it would build its own roads, rather than run trucks through park roads. Also, the company would build a road that would better connect older parts of the park with a new conference center. The newly built gas-well roads could be used later for hiking and biking, Cabot officials said.

“The latest technology will be used in the construction and operation of the well sites; all small-diameter pipelines, although not required under the lease, will be installed underground,” the company said in materials promoting its proposal.

“The wells are to be positioned in the outlying areas of the park so that they will not be located near current or planned recreation facilities,” Cabot said. “This includes the outdoor swimming pool and the new convention center and lodge.”

But Timmermeyer said her agency was bound by a section of state law that prohibits the state Division of Natural Resources, which manages state parks, from allowing drilling in any park.

Another section of the law, Timmermeyer’s order stated, required the DEP “to assure, among other things, that [DEP] ‘carries out its functions in a manner which supplements and complements the environmental policies, programs and procedures of ... other instrumentalities of this state.”

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.

 

 

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