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Property Right Advocates Attempt to Stop West Virginia Gas Drilling Bill

At the end of March, West Virginia’s Senate voted to authorize natural gas producers to drill when three fourths of those with royalty rights agree and a reasonable effort has been made to negotiate with the remaining owners of a property. The bill was approved with a vote of 19 to 14. The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association has commented that the law reflects current technology and that the state of West Virginia is ready for major gas development. This vote came after a three-hour meeting of the West Virginia senate two days after companies, industry trade groups, and natural gas law firms brought hundreds of workers to speak in support of the bill.

Details of the Bill

The bill in question, SB 576, is designed to make it easier for natural gas companies to work despite the protests of unwilling co-owners of minerals. SB 576 also imposes modern horizontal drilling techniques despite leases written years before these types of drilling methods were even imagined. During horizontal drilling, gas companies drill both down and horizontally which allows the companies to capture gas from a larger area. SB 576 also allows drilling of multiple contiguous leases with horizontal drilling rights provided that the leases do not expressly prohibit horizontal drilling.

Supporters of the Bill

Natural gas companies have long desired this legislation. One senator who supports the bill claims that the bill was passed because West Virginia legislature has finally responded to royalty owners who have leased rights and desire such a bill to be passed. Supporters of SB 576 argue that that the legislation is necessary for natural gas companies to pool sufficient amounts of gas.

Opponents of the Bill

The bill is opposed by the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization, which argues that the bill enables out-of-state gas producers to take mineral owners’ property for the benefit of shareholders. The president of the Farm Bureau referred to the bill as a “total betrayal” of the property rights of West Virginians. Other land and mineral owner groups have expressed concerns about the legislation. Opponents of the bill even held a news conference at the time that the measure was scheduled for potential amendments and a vote on passage. The news conference was organized by lobbyists who represent Shiben Estates Incorporated, a land and mineral firm based in New Martinsville. Opponents of SB 576 argue that the gas industry is attempting to use legislation to endorse modern drilling techniques that would undermine land rights.

Obtain the Assistance of Skilled West Virginia Attorney

West Virginia’s legislature has listed only one amendment to be considered for SB 576, which would allow unwilling mineral owners who are forced into gas pools to obtain a review from West Virginia’s Oil and Gas Conservation Committee. For individuals in the energy business, including natural gas, it is a wise idea to retain the assistance of legal counsel who has in-depth understanding of the natural gas business. Contact the law firm of Hendrickson and Long, a West Virginia law firm dedicated to protecting the rights of those companies involved in the energy industry.

Mounting a Defense When Your Professional License is Under Threat

The prospect of losing one’s professional license can be an extremely stressful experience. When one is faced with disbarment or license revocation, one’s entire source of income becomes threatened.  There is also an element of public shaming, and of course the possibility of fines and other sanctions.  With so much at stake, it is imperative that individuals facing license revocation or disbarment obtain representation from a skilled and dedicated professional license defense attorney.  The future depends upon it.

License Revocation in the Field of Medicine

In the field of medicine, upon proof of good cause, the state has the power to revoke a license to practice medicine.   Good cause, on the general level, is based on conduct contrary to public health, safety, and morals.  From this policy, one can infer that license revocation in the medical context is as much about protecting the public as it is about punishing the physician.   Both incompetence and the unauthorized practice of medicine are common grounds for license revocation.  Importantly, though, irrespective of the basis, physicians faced with license revocation are entitled to due process and the equal protection of the laws.  Accordingly, license revocation must be preceded by adequate notice and a hearing.  If you suspect you were denied these basic rights, contact an experienced professional license defense attorney immediately.

Besides incompetence and the unauthorized practice of medicine, other examples of good cause include:

– Bad character;

– Immorality;

– Professional misconduct;

– Dishonorable conduct;

– Criminal conviction;

– Gross negligence;

– Guilty finding of drug or alcohol abuse; and

– Mental disability.

Disbarment in the Legal Profession

In levying sanctions, including disbarment, various factors may be considered, including:

– The duties violated;

– The attorney’s mental state;

– The injury, whether potential or actual, caused by the attorney’s misconduct; and

– The presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

Grounds for disbarment are many, and include failure to avoid conflicts of interest, lack of diligence, lack of competence, and failure to maintain personal integrity, among many others.

Disbarment is a very severe punishment because it actually terminates an individual’s status as an attorney.  In the worst-case scenario, disbarment is permanent.  Elsewhere, after several years from the effective date of disbarment, reinstatement may be possible through a showing by clear and convincing evidence of rehabilitation and fitness to practice law and successful completion of the bar examination.

What To Do If You Have Been Threatened With Disbarment or License Revocation

Before your professional license can be revoked, you must be given reasonable notice of the revocation proceeding and an opportunity to appear and make a defense.  Furthermore, the notice must specify the exact charges being made against you.  As soon as you receive notice, it is imperative that you retain the services of a skilled professional license defense attorney.  The same is true if you are seeking restoration of a professional license.  Too much is at stake.

Come Out and Play: West Virginia Statute Limits Landowner Liability for Injuries on Land Used for Recreational Purposes

West Virginia is home to beautiful and wondrous open spaces, where people from all over come to enjoy the state’s parks, rivers, streams, and mountains. Vast open space is dwindling. The West Virginia legislature, in recognizing that it must protect its natural resources, passed a statute protecting landowners who open their land for recreation use to the public as well as to military training.

Landowner Protections

West Virginia Code, chapter 19, article 25 is entitled “Limiting Liability of Landowners Act” (“The Act”). The preamble to The Act states a clear purpose. West Virginians are encouraged to open their lands to visitors to allow access to the public for recreation, wildlife propagation, and military training by limiting liability to people who use the property for recreation. In consideration for granting the public access to the land, The Act limits the landowner’s liability for injuries suffered by a visitor to the land. The limitations, however, are not absolute but go a long way in protecting a landowner from a lawsuit if someone is hurt on their property.

Under the Act, a landowner may not be found liable for injuries to people who use their land for recreation. Generally, landowners have a duty of care to protect people who enter their lands from injury. The Act does not extend that duty to people entering the land for recreational purposes. The Act does not impose a duty of a landowner to warn about known dangers or hazardous conditions on the property if the people entering the property are using the property for recreational purposes. Users of the property do not become licensees or invitees to whom a higher duty of care is owed by the landowner. Granting a governmental agency an easement or a lease in the property will not create liability on behalf of the landowner either. The Act does allow parties to agree to the contrary.

The Act creates an obligation on permitted land users. The Act specifically creates an affirmative duty on behalf of the land user to use a duty of care to protect themselves from injury.

Limitations to Protection

A landowner’s protections have limitations. The Act extends protections to people who use the land. For instance, The Act does not protect the landowner who charges a fee for access to the property. The Act protects donors of their property and not those who are trying to make money by granting access to their land. The Act has additional limitations as well. The Act will not immunize the landlord’s intentional behavior that injures a property user. Accordingly, The Act does not immunize criminal behavior as well.

For More Information

West Virginia’s legislature makes it easy for a landowner to open their lands for the public to use. A landowner who has the space to share should do so only after consultation with experienced attorneys such as Hendrickson & Long who defend landowners against lawsuits for injuries suffered on their land.