JEWETT - A lawsuit has been filed by village officials against seven defendants over subsurface oil and natural gas mineral rights.
The lawsuit concerns 29 acres, located in Archer Township at the intersection of Route 9 and Hanover Ridge/county Road 17. Council President Roger Walters said the area does not belong to North American Coal Royalty Co., but rather the village.
"We own some ground on the way to Cadiz ... when it was deeded we thought we were entitled to it for the gas and oil mineral rights, but North American retained those, or thought they did," Walters said. "With all the new regulations and the way they changed ownership, we felt the way the contract was written that it was ours. We had the deed researched and turned it over to the law firm to see what could be done."
The village is able to lay claim to the mineral rights thanks to the 1989 Dormant Mineral Rights Act, which states that "a severed mineral interest is deemed abandoned and reunited with the surface interest after 20 years unless the mineral interest was in coal or was held by the United States, the state of Ohio or by any political subdivision of either," according to the Ohio State Bar Association's website.
The act has been described as a requirement for holders of separated subsurface oil and gas rights to "use it or lose it."
Surface rights to the 29 acres were purchased by the village in 1962, and the lawsuit alleges the lack of action by the mineral rights owners before 2006, when an amendment was added to the 1989 act, now makes Jewett the owner of mineral rights as well as surface rights.
The law firm heading the suit is Tzangas, Plakas, Mannos Ltd. of Canton, which has represented land owners throughout Eastern Ohio concerning oil, gas and mineral rights claims and contract disputes. The village is being represented by attorneys Lee E. Plakas, Gary A. Corroto and Joshua E. O'Farrell. The lawsuit seeks $75,000 in compensatory damages, and for the court to judge Jewett the owner of the land's oil and natural gas mineral rights. It also asks the court to declare recent lease transfers null and void along with an injunction against parties that have interfered with Jewett's development of its minerals by invalidly leasing the rights.
"You can't lease something you don't own. Because the mineral interest was abandoned pursuant to the 1989 Ohio Dormant Mineral Rights Act and vested in the village of Jewett before the lease was entered into, we believe that lease is invalid and should be removed from the Harrison County records," said Corroto in a press release.
One recipient of the recent lease transfers was Chesapeake Exploration, which is among the seven defendants. Other defendants include Mountaineer Natural Gas Co. and CHK Utica. The defendants have 60 days as of last Wednesday to file their answers to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio, Eastern Division.