I have read the text of Senate Bill 245, which grants unrestricted access to private property by natural gas companies. I am certain Sen. Blair did not style this bill. I am equally certain that this bill was handed to him and sponsored without a thorough reading.
A friend suggested that this bill reminds him of the behavior of British soldiers 250 years ago. Upon reflection, Senate Bill 245 seeks to establish natural gas companies as a 21st Century equivalent of the British East India Company, with all its deficiencies.
Among the deficiencies, there is no mechanism for determining the “damages” for which the “natural gas company” is responsible. Further, these “non trespasses” will be conducted by assigns and agents who appear to be immune from any responsibility for their actions.
Senate Bill 245 provides no mechanism for assurance that such “non trespassers” are actually conducting “business” claimed. How does this bill protect a senior citizen, or a person working away from her/his property during daylight hours? The answer is it does not, nor is it intended to do so.
If there is a dispute over damages, the bill provides no mechanism for making the plaintiff whole. It is clear that such a plaintiff would be forced to take what the “natural gas company” is willing to offer. Certainly, the value of such damages would be quickly consumed by discovery and retainer costs associated with a lawsuit.
The bill gives “special status” to “natural gas companies.” The legal machinations must have changed since I studied civics and business law. Then, I learned of doctrines which provide for a “freeholder” to be secure in her/his “property, possessions, and papers.” Senate Bill 245 flies in the face of these doctrines, granting “special or preferred status” to this single industry.
I am reminded of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” in which all the farm animals were “equal,” but some “more equal” than others.
I have had negative experiences with utility companies damaging property. VEPCO, now Dominion Energy, transported trucks and pole trailers across the ground where I was haying while the ground was muddy. The 18-inch ruts persisted another three years until I tilled and reseeded the field.
Though I complained, I never received one nickel of compensation for the damages, nor even an acknowledgment of the complaint.
The bill is not specific about whether ownership of property is owned fee simple, or not. Here in the Eastern Panhandle, most owners of our tracts own all the rights. That said, these owners have a right to determine whether they wish to sell the resources above, upon, or beneath their lands, and access to the same. That must be held sacred, something Senate Bill 245 does not do.