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COAL MINE GAS-LINE DISPUTE HEADS TO COURT


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Saturday, June 21, 2008
Page: 1A
Byline: PAUL J. NYDEN


Staff writer


West Virginia oil and gas producers hope to block a state agency from requiring them to identify their gas transmission lines on coal mining operations and other areas in the state.


The state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety released a new regulation on May 12. Set to take effect last Monday, it would require gas and utility companies to clearly mark the locations of all transmission lines.


The new regulation also would require coal companies to hold training sessions for their employees and contractors about potential dangers from gas lines.


However, three days before the new regulation was to go into effect, the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia and 25 individual gas and gas exploration companies asked a federal judge to override the new rule.


The state mine safety board passed the new regulation in the wake of a Feb. 1, 2006, explosion at Black Castle Surface Mine, which is operated in Boone County by Elk Run Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy.


Paul K. Moss, 58, died that day after a bulldozer he was operating punctured a buried natural gas line, setting it on fire and causing an explosion.


In a May 22 letter, Coal Mine Board Administrator Joel Watts said the new rule "recognizes that coal and utility companies must share the same properties during the course of coal production and maintenance of utility projects.


"It calls for a reasonable notice to be given by oil, gas and utility companies to the owner of record or the occupant of the coal property if on-sire travel is expected," Watts wrote.


The regulation would require all gas lines to be marked with clearly visible markers, at least 36 inches high, on both sides at intervals of no more than 75 feet.


The gas companies argue that federal law places natural gas pipelines under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has delegated part of its local authority to the state Public Service Commission.


They also argue that the state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety wants to "shift responsibilities and requirements for the safety of coal miners, from the coal industry and coal operators, to members of the natural gas industry."


Gas companies, the petition states, are simply exercising their "property rights to use the surface and subsurface of the land pursuant to various deeds, leases, rights of way and easements, which constitute valuable property rights."


Nicholas C. Preservati, a Charleston lawyer who represents coal and land companies in disputes with gas companies, believes gas well development often threatens the safety of coal miners, gas company drillers and local communities.


"This is not about coal versus gas," Preservati previously said. "It is about stopping third parties from creating dangerous conditions on mine property."


The case, filed in U.S. District Court, is likely to be heard by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers.


Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 348-5164.

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