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W.Va. man asks to refile gas drilling complaint

Vicki Smith, Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- A West Virginia man wants permission to refile his lawsuit against an Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiary that could drill as many as 18 deep, horizontal wells on his land to reach his neighbors' natural gas reserves.

A co-defendant was recently dismissed from the case, and Richard Cain acknowledges the time to update his complaint against XTO Energy has expired. But in a filing with U.S. District Court in Clarksburg last week, he told Judge Irene Keeley that he'd been waiting for the resolution of other issues before amending his original complaint.

The 61-year-old farmer and crane operator concedes he doesn't own the rights to oil, gas and minerals under his 105 acres. But he argues that a 1907 deed at the center of the case never envisioned such extensive surface disruption.

XTO plans to use about 36 acres to site wells. Cain contends XTO would use the best land and leave him mostly with steep hillsides.

His amended complaint demands a court order to stop XTO from trespassing on his land and to require it to detail any profits turned by what he contends is the illegal use of his land.

"It is unjust and unconscionable that such profits be retained," the complaint says. "Plaintiff is entitled to an accounting of such profits."

The complaint also demands compensatory damages, plus damages for trespassing, property destruction, loss of property value and more.

XTO has denied doing anything illegal. It argues it paid $63,000 for a pipeline right of way easement to transport oil, gas water and other substances across Cain's property.

In a ruling dismissing Waco Oil and Gas as a defendant, however, Keeley said that's a point to be argued.

While XTO's lease gives it the clear right to access adjoining property through pipelines, she wrote, it "does not otherwise provide the right to use the surface of the tract to explore for or produce oil and gas from neighboring oil and gas estates."