(a) The Legislature finds the following:
(1) Exploration for and development of oil and gas reserves in this state must coexist with the use, agricultural or otherwise, of the surface of certain land and that each constitutes a right equal to the other.
(2) Modern methods of extraction of oil and gas require the use of substantially more surface area than the methods commonly in use at the time most mineral estates in this state were severed from the fee tract; and, specifically, the drilling of wells by the rotary drilling method was virtually unknown in this state prior to the year one thousand nine hundred sixty, so that no person severing their oil and gas from their surface land and no person leasing their oil and gas with the right to explore for and develop the same could reasonably have known nor could it have been reasonably contemplated that rotary drilling operations imposed a greater burden on the surface than the cable tool drilling method heretofore employed in this state; and since the year one thousand nine hundred sixty, the use of rotary drilling methods has spread slowly but steadily in this state, with concomitant public awareness of its impact on surface land; and that the public interest requires that the surface owner be entitled to fair compensation for the loss of the use of surface area during the rotary drilling operation, but recognizing the right of the oil and gas operator to conduct rotary drilling operations as allowed by law.
(3) Prior to the first day of January, one thousand nine hundred sixty, the rotary method of drilling oil or gas wells was virtually unknown to the surface owners of this state nor was such method reasonably contemplated during the negotiations which occasioned the severance of either oil or gas from the surface.
(4) The Legislature further finds and creates a rebuttable presumption that even after the thirty-first day of December, one thousand nine hundred fifty-nine, and prior to the ninth day of June, one thousand nine hundred eighty-three, it was unlikely that any surface owner knew or should have known of the rotary method of drilling oil or gas wells, but, that such knowledge was possible and that the rotary method of drilling oil or gas wells could have, in some instances, been reasonably contemplated by the parties during the negotiations of the severance of the oil and gas from the surface. This presumption against knowledge of the rotary drilling method may be rebutted by a clear preponderance of the evidence showing that the surface owner or the surface owner's predecessor of record did in fact know of the rotary drilling method at the time the owner or the owner's predecessor executed a severance deed or lease of oil and gas and that the owner or owner's predecessor fairly contemplated the rotary drilling method and received compensation for the same.
(b) Any surface owner entitled to claim any finding or any presumption which is not rebutted as provided in this section shall be entitled to the compensation and damages of this article.
(c) The Legislature declares that the public policy of this state shall be that the compensation and damages provided in this article for surface owners may not be diminished by any provision in a deed, lease or other contract entered into after the ninth day of June, one thousand nine hundred eighty-three.
(d) It is the purpose of this article to provide constitutionally permissible protection and compensation to surface owners of lands on which oil and gas wells are drilled from the burden resulting from drilling operations commenced after the ninth day of June, one thousand nine hundred eighty-three. This article is to be interpreted in the light of the legislative intent expressed herein. This article shall be interpreted to benefit surface owners, regardless of whether the oil and gas mineral estate was separated from the surface estate and regardless of who executed the document which gave the oil and gas developer the right to conduct drilling operations on the land. Section four of this article shall be interpreted to benefit all persons.
(a) In this article, unless the context or subject matter otherwise requires:
(1) "Agricultural production" means the production of any growing grass or crop attached to the surface of the land, whether or not the grass or crop is to be sold commercially, and the production of any farm animals, whether or not the animals are to be sold commercially;
(2) "Drilling operations" means the actual drilling or redrilling of an oil or gas well commenced subsequent to the ninth day of June, one thousand nine hundred eighty-three, and the related preparation of the drilling site and access road, which requires entry, upon the surface estate;
(3) "Oil and gas developer" means the person who secures the drilling permit required by article six of this chapter;
(4) "Person" means any natural person, corporation, firm, partnership, partnership association, venture, receiver, trustee, executor, administrator, guardian, fiduciary or other representative of any kind, and includes any government or any political subdivision or agency thereof;
(5) "Surface estate" means an estate in or ownership of the surface of a particular tract of land overlying the oil or gas leasehold being developed; and
(6) "Surface owner" means a person who owns an estate in fee in the surface of land, either solely or as a co-owner.
(a) The oil and gas developer shall be obligated to pay the surface owner compensation for:
(1) Lost income or expenses incurred as a result of being unable to dedicate land actually occupied by the driller's operation or to which access is prevented by such drilling operation to the uses to which it was dedicated prior to commencement of the activity for which a permit was obtained measured from the date the operator enters upon the land until the date reclamation is completed, (2) the market value of crops destroyed, damaged or prevented from reaching market, (3) any damage to a water supply in use prior to the commencement of the permitted activity, (4) the cost of repair of personal property up to the value of replacement by personal property of like age, wear and quality, and (5) the diminution in value, if any, of the surface lands and other property after completion of the surface disturbance done pursuant to the activity for which the permit was issued determined according to the actual use made thereof by the surface owner immediately prior to the commencement of the permitted activity.
The amount of damages may be determined by any formula mutually agreeable between the surface owner and the oil and gas developer.
(b) Any reservation or assignment of the compensation provided in this section apart from the surface estate except to a tenant of the surface estate is prohibited.
(c) In the case of surface lands owned by more than one person as tenants in common, joint tenants or other co-ownership, any claim for compensation under this article shall be for the benefit of all such co-owners. The resolution of a claim for compensation provided in this article shall operate as a bar to the assertion of additional claims under this section arising out of the same drilling operations.
(a) Nothing in section three or elsewhere in this article shall be construed to diminish in any way the common law remedies, including damages, of a surface owner or any other person against the oil and gas developer for the unreasonable, negligent or otherwise wrongful exercise of the contractual right, whether express or implied, to use the surface of the land for the benefit of the developer's mineral interest.
(b) An oil and gas developer shall be entitled to offset compensation agreed to be paid or awarded to a surface owner under section three of this article against any damages sought by or awarded to the surface owner through the assertion of common law remedies respecting the surface land actually occupied by the same drilling operation.
(c) An oil and gas developer shall be entitled to offset damages agreed to be paid or awarded to a surface owner through the assertion of common-law remedies against compensation sought by or awarded to the surface owner under section three of this article respecting the surface land actually occupied by the same drilling operation.
Any surface owner, to receive compensation under section three of this article, shall notify the oil and gas developer of the damages sustained by the person within two years after the date that the oil and gas developer files notice that reclamation is commencing under section thirty, article six of this chapter. Such notice shall be given to surface owners by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, and shall be complete upon mailing. If more than three tenants in common or other co-owners hold interests in such lands, the developer may give such notice to the person described in the records of the sheriff required to be maintained pursuant to section eight, article one, chapter eleven-a of this code or publish in the county in which the well is located or to be located a Class II legal advertisement as described in section two, article three, chapter fifty-nine of this code, containing such notice and information as the director shall prescribe by rule.
Unless the parties provide otherwise by written agreement, within sixty days after the oil and gas developer received the notification of claim specified in section five of this article, the oil and gas developer shall either make an offer of settlement to the surface owner seeking compensation, or reject the claim. The surface owner may accept or reject any offer so made.
(a) Unless the oil and gas developer has paid the surface owner a negotiated settlement of compensation within sixty days after the date the notification of claim was mailed under section five of this article, the surface owner may, within eighty days after the notification mail date, either (i) bring an action for compensation in the circuit court of the county in which the well is located, or (ii) elect instead, by written notice delivered by personal service or by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the designated agent named by the oil and gas developer under the provisions of section six, article six of this chapter, to have his compensation finally determined by binding arbitration pursuant to article ten, chapter fifty-five of this code.
Settlement negotiations, offers and counter-offers between the surface owner and the oil and gas developer shall not be admissible as evidence in any arbitration or judicial proceeding authorized under this article, or in any proceeding resulting from the assertion of common law remedies.
(b) The compensation to be awarded to the surface owner shall be determined by a panel of three disinterested arbitrators. The first arbitrator shall be chosen by the surface owner in such party's notice of election under this section to the oil and gas developer; the second arbitrator shall be chosen by the oil and gas developer within ten days after receipt of the notice of election; and the third arbitrator shall be chosen jointly by the first two arbitrators within twenty days thereafter. If they are unable to agree upon the third arbitrator within twenty days, then the two arbitrators are hereby empowered to and shall forthwith submit the matter to the court under the provisions of section one, article ten, chapter fifty-five of this code, so that, among other things, the third arbitrator can be chosen by the judge of the circuit court of the county wherein the surface estate lies.
(c) The following persons shall be deemed interested and not be appointed as arbitrators: Any person who is personally interested in the land on which rotary drilling is being performed or has been performed, or in any interest or right therein, or in the compensation and any damages to be awarded therefor, or who is related by blood or marriage to any person having such personal interest, or who stands in the relation of guardian and ward, master and servant, principal and agent, or partner, real estate broker, or surety to any person having such personal interest, or who has enmity against or bias in favor of any person who has such personal interest or who is the owner of, or interested in, such land or the oil and gas development thereof. No person shall be deemed interested or incompetent to act as arbitrator by reason of being an inhabitant of the county, district or municipal corporation wherein the land is located, or holding an interest in any other land therein.
(d) The panel of arbitrators shall hold hearings and take such testimony and receive such exhibits as shall be necessary to determine the amount of compensation to be paid to the surface owner. However, no award of compensation shall be made to the surface owner unless the panel of arbitrators has first viewed the surface estate in question. A transcript of the evidence may be made but shall not be required.
(e) Each party shall pay the compensation of such party's arbitrator and one half of the compensation of the third arbitrator, or such party's own court costs as the case may be.
The remedies provided by this article shall not preclude any person from seeking other remedies allowed by law.
Note: WV Code updated with legislation passed through the 2016 Regular Session
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