Mountaineer Gas wants to send its pipeline right through David Kerns’ family farm in Morgan County just east of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
Kerns has made it clear that he doesn’t want Mountaineer Gas coming onto his property.
Now, the natural gas industry is going over the heads of David Kerns and other property owners who don’t want anything to do with this or other pipelines.
And they are going straight to Charleston where Senator Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) has introduced legislation — SB 245 — that permits natural gas companies “to enter private property without prior consent from the owner” to survey land for proposed pipelines.
Last year, Senator Charles Trump (R-Morgan), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, help shepherd a similar bill through his committee and onto the Senate floor, where Blair and Trump voted for it — but the bill was voted down 23 to 11.
The bill requires the companies to first request permission, but if the owner says no, then it would preempt state trespass law.
“Any entry authorized by and in compliance with this section is neither a trespass nor a taking,” SB 245 reads. “Such entries shall be considered a minimal intrusion.”
The bill was written by the natural gas industry to bypass a West Virginia court decision — McCurdy v. Mountain Valley Pipeline — holding that the MVP pipeline was not for a public purpose and therefore the pipeline company didn’t have a right to survey people’s land without their permission.
The decision was upheld by the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Isak Howell, an attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, says that even though SB 245 seems tailored to interstate pipelines like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Mountaineer Gas pipeline might fit the definition of a natural gas company under the bill.
“If it becomes law, Mountaineer Gas probably would have the right to survey without landowner permission,” Howell said.
Appalachian Mountain Advocates is challenging a similar law in Virginia.
Citizen opposition to SB 245 is being led by the West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization.
The group is calling SB 245 a “right to trespass bill” and is encouraging all citizens to call their Senators and “urge them to oppose these shameful attempts to take away the property rights of West Virginians.”