Sustained Outrage

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We ran an Associated Press story earlier in the week about an apparent trend by states to open up their public parks to oil and gas drilling as a way of padding weak revenues.

The AP article came up with this trend by citing moves in four states — Ohio, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico — to begin drilling. It did not say  what the rules are in other states, and specifically said that “no organization tracks drilling that falls within the boundary of state parks, or how much oil and gas can be pulled from that land.”

AP reporter Julie Carr Smyth also cited West Virginia, noting that:

In July, a circuit court judge in West Virginia ruled against the state environmental protection agency’s attempt to block drilling under Chief Logan State Park.

But here’s a bit of an update from that story, and from the AP story last month about the ruling in the Chief Logan case by Logan Circuit Judge Roger L. Perry:

The Manchin administration has promised to appeal Perry’s decision to the state Supreme Court, and to fight any effort by Cabot Oil & Gas Co. to begin its drilling project before that appeal is considered.

raymondfranks1.JPGRay Franks, the WVDEP’s general counsel, told me this week that his agency still has until mid-October to actually file its petition asking the Supreme Court to consider the case. Given the way most lawyers work — and the chronic understaffing of WVDEP’s legal office (Franks is currently serving as the agency’s general counsel and also as chief of its legal services office), don’t look for the petition to be filed early.

Houston-based Cabot set up this fight with the WVDEP two years ago, when  the company announced its proposal to put nearly three dozen new wells into the 3,600-acre park. This came after unsuccessful efforts by the company and by Larry George, lawyer for the family that owns the oil and gas reserves, to overturn a state law that prohibits new oil and gas drilling under state park lands in West Virginia.

In December 2007, then-DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer rejected Cabot’s proposal, citing that state law.  Members of the family that owns the oil and gas reserves responded that Timmermeyer and Gov. Joe Manchin were just “playing politics” in denying the drilling permit request.

After the reading the AP story this week, I called Franks to check in on the Chief Logan case, and see if WVDEP planned to appeal. I wondered what would happen if WVDEP waits the entire four months allowed it to file its petition for appeal … wouldn’t that just give Cabot time to get its drilling rigs moving?

Well, Franks pointed out that the circuit court’s order remands the case to WVDEP, and that Cabot can’t do anything until the agency issues the permit. WVDEP doesn’t plan on doing that until it gets a shot at its appeal, Franks told me.

But, the circuit court also instructed WVDEP to issue the permits.  So, Cabot could always go back to court, seeking an order to make WVDEP do so. If that happens, Franks said, WVDEP will seek a stay to block any drilling until the appeal can be considered.