EQT Letter Characterized as ‘Misleading’ and ‘Bullying’

Landowner and environmental advocate question claims made by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC attorney

By Michael M. Barrick

WESTON, W.Va. – Kevin Mullooly, a Lewis County landowner and former employee of Pittsburgh-based EQT Corporation, received a letter last week from an attorney representing the company’s Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project. In the letter, Stephen E. Hastings, Counsel for Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, references West Virginia Code 54-1-1 to threaten landowners with a lawsuit if they do not provide EQT access to their land by March 9.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a project of EQT and NextEra Energy Inc. If approved, the 42” pipeline would transport at least two billion cubic feet of natural gas along a 330-mile route from Wetzel County, W.Va. to Pittsylvania County, Va. EQT and its partners have yet to submit a formal application with FERC. It is expected to do so later this year. The companies hope to begin construction in late 2016. Construction is estimated to take about two years. The MVP and other pipelines such as the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline are the direct result of the fracking boom in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Mullooly is just one of numerous landowners throughout West Virginia to receive the letter according to EQT Corporate Director of Communication Natalie Cox. Cox acknowledged that she did not know how many letters had been sent out, but stated, via email, “I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of conducting these survey activities, which are designed to evaluate the proposed pipeline routes currently under consideration and ultimately determine the route that has the least overall impact on the environment, landowners, and cultural and historic resources.”

Mullooly did not interpret the letter the same way. He said the letter left one of his family members “pretty scared.” He explained, “We don’t want to go to court. I think it is a bullying technique. I worked for EQT. They just want to get us to cave.”

Additionally, Elise Keaton, the Outreach and Education Coordinator for the Greenbrier River Watershed Association (GRWA) questioned the assertions made by Hastings in his letter. During a break at a community meeting in Ireland, W.Va. on Feb. 28, where Keaton was speaking to about 75 landowners about the MVP, she said, “They cite the eminent domain statute. It implies a right they do not have yet.” She added, “That letter is misleading. It is intimidating.” Keaton, who is an attorney licensed to practice in Colorado, continued, “As an attorney, I am offended by it.”

In the letter, Hastings writes, “…the Mountain Valley Pipeline …will be regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.” Yet, as both Mullooly and Keaton point out, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has not yet approved the pipeline.

Hence, we asked Cox, “As you know that process is in the early stages and no approval has been granted. Wouldn’t you consider this phrase misleading?” Cox, responded, “The first sentence of the letter reads – ‘Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC wishes to resolve your concerns regarding the required land survey activities for the proposed construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which will be regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’ – and the intent of that sentence, in its entirety, is to educate or inform the recipient that the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would be a natural gas transportation system managed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The sentence to which you are referring was not written to be misleading, and when reading or referencing the sentence in its entirety, the pipeline is referred to as being ‘proposed,’ which does not imply certainty of the pipeline project.”

Furthermore, Section 54-1-3 of the West Virginia Code states that access to property cannot be exercised under eminent domain without the landowner’s consent “…until it shall have obtained the right so to do in the manner provided in this chapter.” So, we asked “What federal or state law/statute/code are you relying upon to assert the right to access the land?” Cox replied, “As referenced in the landowner letters, we rely upon West Virginia Code Section 54-1-1, et seq., to provide us the right to enter land for survey purposes.”

Hastings concludes the letter, “If we have not received consent to access your property for the surveys, appraisals, tests and studies requested in this letter by March 9, 2015, legal action will likely be taken in order to obtain the necessary access. We hope this will not be required and we look forward to working with you.” In response, we asked Cox, “On what federal or state law/statute/code are you relying to threaten legal action?” and “What sort of legal action do you contemplate?” She replied, “As referenced in the landowner letters, we rely upon West Virginia Code Section 54-1-1, et seq., to provide us the right to enter land for survey purposes. While it is important for us to continue talking and working with our landowners, only as a last resort would we file a declaratory judgment and injunction matter to enforce our rights.”

Mullooly not only takes issue with the letter. He also shared that previous experiences with EQT make him hesitant to trust them. He said that a few years ago, the company sprayed herbicide from a helicopter over another pipeline on his property, killing about 100 trees. EQT refuses to compensate him for his losses, Mullooly said. “This is a 4,000 foot section. And 2,000 feet of it is over a fence line. As these trees die, they are going to fall and damage that fence. That is no worry to them either.” He added, “They are just not living up to their end of the agreement.”

Mullooly concluded, “I know how they fight. They will fight even when somebody doesn’t want to fight. They will intimidate.” He said that he and his family are considering contacting an attorney about the letter.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2015


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