On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Kleeh approved EQT’s motion for voluntary dismissal in a lawsuit filed over a 1982 law that required drilling companies to pay a 12.5 percent royalty on new wells drilled under old leases and a bill passed in the 2018 legislative session that upheld the 1982 law. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
EQT Corp., the state’s second-largest drilling company, filed the lawsuit in April 2018 against Austin Caperton in his official capacity as secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
But in February, EQT Corp. agreed to settle another lawsuit that alleged the company was cheating about 9,000 state residents and businesses from their royalty payments. The lawsuit was among those highlighted last year in a joint examination by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica that examined how natural gas companies avoid paying royalties owed to residents and businesses.
Days later, EQT Corp. said it might drop its lawsuit if the $53.5 million settlement was approved. In June, U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey approved the settlement. Funds will go to people who leased the rights to natural gas beneath their land to EQT between December 2009 and December 2017. Those people are divvied up into three groups, based on the nature of their lease. The lawsuit against Caperton only addresses one of those groups.
Caperton didn’t object to the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Kleeh wrote in his order.
A spokesman for the DEP declined to comment.
“We filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit on August 30, and it has been granted. The dismissal is consistent with CEO Toby Rice’s intention for EQT to better partner with West Virginia to benefit all stakeholders, including our landowners, our business partners, our suppliers, the communities where we operate and the state in general,” Michael Laffin, vice president for communications of EQT, said in an email.
Last week, Rice told attendees at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s annual business summit he hoped to have a better relationship with landowners.