Craig Sweger's favorite saying is, "if you think education is expensive, try ignorance."
The Pennsylvania farmer and director of the University of Pittsburgh's agricultural entrepreneurship program discussed ignorance's price and knowledge's payoff during his presentation on natural gas pipeline rights-of-way negotiations for landowners Tuesday at Camp Pioneer in Beverly.
Sweger did his best to educate Randolph County farmers and landowners about what to do when natural gas companies come knocking, wanting to pay them to run natural gas pipelines through their properties.
John Keeling, vice president of MSES Consultants, Inc. and the second speaker of the evening, briefed attendees on environmental permit considerations and requirements for natural gas pipeline installation.
The program, titled "Natural gas pipelines: logistics, negotiating and regulation," was sponsored by West Virginia University Extension Service and is the second of two presentations throughout the state. The first took place in Kingwood on Feb. 13.
The most important thing a landowner should keep in mind when a right-of-way agreement is being drawn up between himself or herself, the grantor, and a natural gas company, the grantee, is to consult an attorney to ensure everything is spelled out in the agreement.
"They don't hire people that aren't charming," Sweger said, "so it doesn't matter if the landman reminds you of your grandson... he can promise you the world, but if it isn't in writing, it isn't in the agreement."
It's critical to ask the company basic questions - such as where it wants to locate the pipeline, how wide the right-of-way will be, how much the company is willing to compensate the landowner and whether or not there will be any above-ground devices placed on the right-of-way.
Protect property that's important to you, Sweger said, advising landowners not to allow natural gas companies to run pipelines "through your favorite apple orchard."
"You also need to put something in the agreement that says they'll accommodate your future needs," Sweger said. The right-of-way agreement should be nonexclusive, meaning the landowner retains the right to grant other rights-of-way - to other companies that would install water or power lines in the future, for instance.
"The agreement should limit the resizing and replacing of lines," Sweger said, "and it should limit the easement to an agreed upon number of lines. Future lines should be in a separate agreement."
Sweger advised landowners to stipulate the period of time during which the company would have access to the easement both during construction and after completion, and to specify whether or not the access road would be permanent and who would maintain it.
"The location of valves, meters, test station, etc., should be defined in the agreement," Sweger said. "The gas companies use the word 'appurtenances' for above-ground devices to confuse you."
Most right-of-way agreements are permanent or perpetual, Sweger said, but he encouraged landowners to negotiate for a 50- or 100-year agreement.
Although most people are primarily concerned with the rate at which they'll be compensated, that issue should be secondary to the terms and conditions the landowner lays out in the agreement.
Nonetheless, "I like to be paid up front," Sweger said, adding that payments may also be ongoing. He said that rates at which landowners are compensated vary - although they're typically $10 per foot, they can range upward to $25 per foot or even more.
He said it's crucial to write reclamation specifications - i.e. seeding requirements and erosion control methods -into the right-of-way agreement to ensure the property will be properly restored.
"Take your time and talk to your neighbors," Sweger said. "I know sometimes people are private about property matters, but that actually plays to the favor of the gas companies. Some final thoughts? Whatever it is, get it in writing. Walk away if you're not comfortable and protect the things that are important to you."
Elkins resident Michael Kline, who attended Tuesday's seminar because he's concerned about the effect of natural gas drilling on the environment, said he appreciated that Sweger had learned the hard way - from firsthand experience.
"He's a farmer and a guy who learned from his own experience and developed some real smarts," Kline said. "He's gotten the gas companies to operate on his terms, and that's what I liked about him."
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.