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Archive for August 20th, 2018

How One West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Gave Natural Gas a Big Victory and Shortchanged Residents

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Ken Ward, Jr., reports in ProPublica:

This article was produced in partnership with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

The Republican-led West Virginia House of Delegates received national attention last week for impeaching all four of the state’s sitting Supreme Court justices. Lawmakers cited a swirling scandal over court spending that ranged from using state cars for personal business to extravagant office renovations that included a $32,000 couch.

Among the targets was Beth Walker, who was impeached over allegations of irresponsible spending and poorly managing the court’s administrative affairs.

But left unmentioned in the impeachment and the debate around it has been a peculiar vote by Walker that benefited the natural gas industry. In one of her earliest votes, Walker made a highly unusual decision to reopen a case and then reverse a Supreme Court ruling that would have forced drillers to pay more in profits to residents. Walker voted to reopen the case around the time her husband owned stock in a variety of energy companies, including those participating in West Virginia’s growing gas boom.

The case focused on whether natural gas companies are allowed to deduct a variety of expenses — for the transportation and processing of gas, for example — when they calculate payments for West Virginia residents or companies that lease them drilling rights to their gas. Millions of dollars in gas royalty payments, the riches from the industry’s dramatic growth in West Virginia over the past decade, were at stake.

In November 2016, the court — before Walker joined it — voted in favor of the residents, ruling that producers weren’t allowed to take such deductions.

Two months later, just weeks into her term, Walker provided the pivotal vote to have the court reconsider the ruling. The court then overturned it, siding with the industry and against the residents.

The decision has been a source of significant dispute. This year, lawmakers passed a bill to reverse the court’s second decision. That prompted EQT Corp., the state’s second-largest gas producer, to file a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Legislature’s action, as well as a 36-year-old state law that sets minimum royalty payments for new gas wells. The company said the state law “infringes on EQT’s vested drilling rights” under its leases.

That case is pending in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg and is among the major battles playing out amid the economic shift in West Virginia from coal to natural gas.


Land ownership across West Virginia has often been complex and confusing. Someone may own the surface land, while someone else owns the the coal, oil or gas underneath it. Tracts such as natural gas reserves become divided among multiple owners, as land and minerals are passed down across generations.

Much of the natural gas in West Virginia is produced under leases that are decades or more than a century old. When they were signed in the early 1900s, paying residents and mineral owners $100 to $300 a year for gas was considered reasonable, maybe even generous. Most drillers at the time were after oil. Gas was mostly an undesirable byproduct.

When the market for natural gas increased, it became more common for leases to pay a share of the sales. Residents and others owning the mineral rights would make more money as production increased.

But many West Virginians were stuck with older leases paying a set amount per year, regardless of production. The Legislature decided to step in with a bill in 1982 to increase royalty payments for new wells drilled under older leases. While existing wells were grandfathered in, new wells drilled under those old leases would now have to pay the gas owner at least 12.5 percent of the gas sales price.

It was one of these leases, signed in 1906, that governed the deal between Patrick and Katherine Leggett and EQT, and that led to the case involving Walker.

The Leggetts were supposed to be getting a 12.5 percent royalty on the gas produced from the new wells on their land. But they were actually getting much less, because EQT was taking deductions from their payments for expenses incurred after the gas was extracted.

The Leggetts and their lawyers thought the law was clear: West Virginia courts had already ruled that gas firms couldn’t take deductions unless leases explicitly allowed them. And the 1982 royalty law didn’t mention allowing deductions. (The Leggetts were represented by Charleston lawyer Marvin Masters, who is among a group of local investors who bought the Charleston Gazette-Mail this year.)

EQT, though, argued that the Leggett case was different, because the court was interpreting the 1982 statute, rather than simply deciding a dispute over the language of a gas lease.

So EQT and the Leggetts went to court, and the case ended up before the state Supreme Court — at a very unusual time.


In May 2016, Walker, a Morgantown lawyer, had just won a seat on the five-member Supreme Court. Still, Walker wasn’t scheduled to take her seat until Jan. 1 and wouldn’t be hearing the Leggett case.

The case was decided in November 2016 by a 3-2 opinion written by Brent Benjamin, the justice Walker had defeated a few months earlier. It affirmed that gas companies couldn’t take post-production costs out of the royalties they paid to people like the Leggetts. The ruling was published on Nov. 17, 2016, the last day of the court’s fall term that year.

When Walker was sworn in a few weeks later, one of her first acts was to join the two justices who had voted against the Leggetts — Allen Loughry and Menis Ketchum — to rehear the case, at the request of EQT. The court rarely agrees to rehear cases, and the court’s own rules say this can only be done in “exceptional cases,” where the court has “overlooked or misapprehended” points of law or fact.

The Leggetts’ lawyers argued that Walker should not be involved in the case and should never have voted on whether to rehear the case because of her husband’s holdings in industry stock.

Mike Walker had loaned his wife’s campaign $525,000 during the 2016 election, according to campaign finance reports. Financial disclosures Beth Walker filed as a candidate for the court indicated that Mike Walker owned stock in many natural gas and energy companies, including Chevron, Columbia Pipeline Group, ConocoPhillips, Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, General Electric, Portland General Electric and ExxonMobil, whose subsidiary, XTO Energy, has significant operations in West Virginia. (State disclosure forms do not provide dollar amounts or ranges for such holdings.)

In court filings, the Leggetts’ lawyers said the loans from Walker’s husband accounted for 70 percent of her campaign funds, and that his energy stocks created a conflict of interest for her in the royalties case.

The decision on whether a justice should be recused is left up to the justice, and Walker declined to recuse herself.

First, she issued an April 26 memo that said she found “no basis for my disqualification” because “neither I nor my husband has an economic interest in the subject matter in controversy.”

Then, five days later, just a day before an oral argument to rehear the case, Walker issued a second memo that said, “Out of an abundance of caution, my husband has divested himself of ownership of shares of stock of any company engaged in the business of producing coal, oil and gas, wind or solar energy.”

At the time, Walker declined through a court spokeswoman to say exactly when her husband sold his energy stocks or if he sold them before she voted to rehear the case. On Friday, Walker’s attorney declined to answer that question or otherwise comment.

In later court filings, EQT lawyers noted that it wasn’t clear how much energy stock Mike Walker owned and said his holdings represented a “diverse stock portfolio, with investments in many different industries.”

Lawyers for the Leggetts describe the stock sale as having taken place after Beth Walker voted to rehear the case. EQT lawyers said what mattered was that the stock divestiture occurred before Beth Walker took part in the oral arguments and decided on the merits of the case.

Three weeks after the new oral arguments, the court sided with EQT over the Leggett family: Post-production costs could be taken from leases covered by the 1982 law.

After that ruling, lawyers for the Leggetts tried to take the issue of Walker’s involvement to the U.S. Supreme Court. But that court declined to hear the matter, as it does with the vast majority of appeals filed every year. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2018 at 7:29 pm

Me, Nordic walking this morning

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The Younger Daughter was intrigued by Nordic Walking and took this video. (Reference links for Nordic walking)

 

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2018 at 9:01 am

Posted in Nordic walking

Malignant Narcissism diagnostic checklist

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Interesting and perhaps even useful, at the personal or national level.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2018 at 7:33 am

Simpson Emperor 3 Super, Declaration Grooming Unconditional Surrender, RazoRock Baby Smooth, and Chatillon Lux Unconditional Surrender

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I started with a barely damp brush, as when using a shave stick, and then found I had to immediately add water, and then add a bit more, and then another few drops to load the brush well. But then the lather was wonderful in fragrance, slickness, and consistency. The maker notes:

The scent notes are amber, tonka bean, amyris, cedarwood, agarwood, vetiver, cigar tobacco, black tea, jasmine and geranium.

It’s probably the tonka bean that caught my nose: I’m a sucker for vanilla.

The Baby Smooth is such a remarkable razor. This one IMO really should be part of your razor arsenal: extreme comfort, extreme efficiency, and never a nick—due, I think, to the extreme curvature of the blade, in which it resembles the Dordo PL602.

Three passes, and then a splash of Chatillon Lux’s Unconditional Surrender aftershave, the fragrance being their creation and developed for Declaration Grooming. I noticed after the final rinse and dry that my face felt very smooth and my skin seemed exceptionally soft. I think it was the shaving soap:

Stearic Acid, Water, Potassium Hydroxide, Avocado Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Bison Tallow, Mango Seed Butter, Castor Oil, Fragrance, Sodium Hydroxide, Lanolin, Bentonite Clay, Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) Fruit Extract, Salix Alba L. (White Willow) Bark Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sorbic Acid

Aha! I didn’t notice the Bentonite Clay until I listed the ingredients just now. That explains the need for extra water in loading and also the soap’s slickness.

 

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2018 at 7:29 am

Posted in Shaving

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