WEIRTON - Three area attorneys have launched a hotline to help landowners in the Tri-State Area who have legal questions surrounding the shale oil and gas industry.
Weirton attorneys Dan Guida and Jeff Rokisky, along with Jonathan Turak of Wheeling, have banded together to develop the Marcellus & Utica Shale Hotline for property owners in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The idea, Guida said, is to make it easier for landowners to find the answers they need to questions surrounding shale contracts.
"Our three firms decided to work cooperatively," Guida said. "We just thought we needed to pool our resources together to adequately handle the volume of cases that are out there."
The three meet about once a week to go over the calls and review the facts of each, he said, and then jointly decide whether to take the case.
"If we decide to take the case or have an interest in exploring it further, we arrange a meeting. All the cases are taken on a contingency basis, so there's no money paid by the client and we only get paid if we win the case."
All of which makes them selective.
"Obviously, we can't take every case," Guida said. "With the number of calls we have coming in, we have to be selective. Maybe out of every 10 calls we take one or two cases, if that. People may have a bad deal, but you can't get out of every bad deal they may be stuck with it."
But in certain situations say, for instance, there are allegations of misrepresentation by landsmen, breach of contract or royalty payment, landowners fighting landowners, former landowners claiming reserved mineral rights - Guida said they may be able to help.
"There's a lot of money at stake," Guida said. "It's our hope that, at least with the cases we do take, we'll be able to help these people. I'm not here to tell you everyone who has a bad deal has a case, because they don't."
Since it's a long-term commitment with far-reaching implications, landowners must be aware of more than just the lease payments and royalty percentages. "People are pulling out their contracts and realizing they didn't know the gas company could pool properties they way they do, or that they'd be allowed to take an easement across their property to lay a pipeline and not pay for it, or they didn't didn't recognize additional issues that might come up," he said. "Or they may not understand the language of the contracts, or there's conflicting language."
Guida said they started the hotline a little over a month ago and have been getting dozens and dozens of calls.
"If you look up and down the river, you're talking couple thousand square miles of property," he said. "The larger the county, the more area and the more landowners. Everybody thinks Chesapeake's the only company coming in, but there's probably a dozen more leasing companies or gas companies coming in and getting people to sign up. When you start thinking about how many property owners are out there, how many people, how many leases have been signed, the numbers are (staggering.)"
The three attorneys offer free consultation, and can be reached by calling (800) 388-2529. If they take the case, it's on contingency which means they don't get paid unless they win.
"Obviously, we're not going to take case we don't think we can win or we aren't sure we can win," he said. "We're spending a lot of time, effort, energy and money ... we're not going to do that, or we're trying not to do that, unless we have a legitimate shot of winning."
(Harris can be contacted at email@example.com)