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The op-ed “Speaking with one voice,” by Kevin Ellis and Jeff Isner, published in the Gazette-Mail on April 22, talked about the importance of the oil and gas industry, and the merger of two oil and gas associations. I agree that oil and gas are still vital to West Virginia and our country despite what leadership in Washington might believe. Together, the two authors said commonsense, predictable regulations are needed, instead of regulatory restrictions. They also mentioned their responsible practices.

Some of the regulatory restrictions they complain about are laws passed to protect landowners, often over the cries of the industry and its lobbyists. Even with existing laws to protect landowners, I am certain many could testify about how difficult it has been dealing with oil and gas companies. I must sadly say it has been my experience that companies’ attitudes when they want to drill a well or put in a pipeline boil down to “Nothing will stop us, so don’t get in the way.”

So they will lie, shortchange landowners anyway they can, trespass by moving forward and we’ll deal with any consequences later — things like property damage, destroyed timber and property rendered less useful and valuable. Companies also allegedly have made statements that can be described as threats. I have heard stories from landowners who respectfully ask a company to place a road or pipeline in a specific place on the property only to be told they will go wherever they want, so get out of the way. I would hardly call these types of actions responsible practices, and I believe most private citizens would agree.

Until the oil and gas industry decides to be upfront when dealing with people — respect property owner rights, work with owners in a cooperative manner when they do have a right to be on the property, quit offering one-sided lease agreements and offer people fair compensation — they will continue to face resistance. Imagine how things would be without existing regulations the industry wants to change.

Since oil and gas are needed and they happen to lie under the surface of landowners’ property, it is imperative that the industry ditch some of its past practices and begin to cooperate with those who own the property. When these things start to become commonplace, then I think the companies can say they help out their fellow neighbors.

Property owners have the resources while companies have the extraction and transportation abilities, but that doesn’t mean individual rights should be trampled by corporations. Instead, it requires cooperation of companies not just with themselves, but with those who make up the other half of the industry equation. As landowners were not mentioned in their op-ed, let’s hope, as they push West Virginia ahead, that they don’t push individuals under the industry wheels.

Ellis and Isner are top officials in their companies. Maybe they could become leaders in helping to reform industry practices.

Steve Kerns lives in Elkview.

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