MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - EQT Corp. is suing six West Virginia property owners who subverted the company's plans to put five gas wells on a 1,000-acre farm by sinking water wells on the site first.
Under state law, gas companies can't drill within 250 feet of an existing water well or spring used for human consumption.
Landowner Charles Heaster says he plans to build a cabin on the site, and he doesn't want EQT to destroy another 50 acres of his cattle farm near West Union, which is located betweeen Parkersburg and Clarksburg.
"They told us in 2008 they were going to drill, and they've been coming and going ever since. They tell you they're going to drill, then they tell you they're not going to drill," Heaster said Thursday. "We can't wait forever. So we did drill the wells."
Heaster got the water well permit in April, and he says EQT notified him of its intention to drill in August.
Now Pennsylvania-based EQT wants a judge to issue an injunction ordering the landowners to plug and abandon the water well, and drop their construction plans for the cabin.
Its lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg, says EQT told Heaster and two other families in July 2012 that it wanted to drill, and no water wells were present at the site at the time.
Nor was a water well present in July 2013, EQT said. But on Sept. 13, workers discovered two water wells near the site of its planned gas well pad.
EQT says the defendants only drilled to stop the gas wells, and they acted "with unclean hands." It calls their actions improper and unlawful.
EQT contends it faces "severe and irreparable harm and damages" because of its investments in permitting and site preparation. It also argues it is being denied "the peaceful enjoyment of its property rights" under its valid lease for the oil and gas below the farm.
Heaster doesn't deny that he put the water well in to control the fate of his land, complaining that EQT planned to lop the top 45 feet off the hill next to his house and build a sixth road to the drilling site.
But he says EQT faces a bigger obstacle over a right of way issue: About 18 months ago, he sold a right of way for a pipeline to Colorado-based Antero Resources. EQT won't be able to access the site without crossing that right of way, he said.
Heaster has embraced the opportunities created by the booming gas industry in north-central West Virginia.
About 40 percent of his farm has been disturbed already, he said, and he has productive relationships with six gas companies that have drilled or plan to drill a total of 35 wells.
But Heaster said he doesn't like how EQT treats him, routinely coming onto his land without warning or explanation. Other companies are more courteous and cooperative, he said.
"Those gas line people, they tell you what they're going to do. They sit down with you, and they offer you a fair price," he said. With EQT, "from the time they set foot on the property to the time they leave, it's a fight."
"I'm not going to argue with them. I'll go to court," Heaster said. "Why do they have use of our farm and we don't?"