Cumberland Times-News

August 3, 2013

Public hunting lands drilled

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— A short Associated Press story out of West Virginia caught my attention early this week; raised my eyebrows, actually.

It seems that several energy companies have gone onto the Lewis Wetzel Wildlife Management Area just south of the state’s Northern Panhandle where they are drilling for natural gas.

Is no place sacred? I wondered.

Well, certain wildlife management areas in West Virginia are not protected from energy exploration, according to Gary Foster, supervisor of game management for the Division of Natural Resources.

“The DNR owns the oil and gas under approximately 44 percent of the total acreage of (state-owned) wildlife management areas,” Foster said. It is very common in the western, central and southern portions of West Virginia for the mineral rights to have been severed from the surface (ownership) decades ago.”

So that’s what happened at the Lewis Wetzel WMA, a 13,590-acre parcel in Wetzel County.

However, here in the Potomac Highlands and in the Eastern Panhandle, the news is better, at least from my point of view.

“Typically, the oil and gas rights have not been severed (in the Eastern Panhandle) and in most cases the surface owner is also the owner of the oil and gas rights,” Foster said.

“The DNR owns 100 percent of the oil and gas rights under the Sleepy Creek (22,928 acres), Nathaniel Mountain (10,675 acres) and Short Mountain (8,005 acres) WMAs, as well as 80 percent of the oil and gas rights under the Allegheny WMA,” he said.

Allegheny, of course, is the two-tract WMA on Green Mountain and the Barnum area in Mineral County totaling more than 6,000 acres.

Additional good news for WMAs in our area is that oil and gas exploration has traditionally been concentrated in other parts of the Mountain State where the primary gas reserves are located.

At the Lewis Wetzel WMA, the DNR is working with the energy companies to minimize the impact of drilling, according to Wildlife Biologist Steven Rauch.

But what about the wildlife management areas in Almost Maryland? What about Dan’s Mountain, Warrior Mountain, Billmeyer, Belle Grove, Sideling Hill, Indian Springs, Prather’s Neck and Mount Nebo?

For this column, I am allowing a little bit of Washington County to be considered a part of Almost Maryland, but only on a trial basis. Officials there have not contacted me with an application for permanent membership.

Well, on Friday morning, Emily Wilson, the director of land acquisition and planning for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, provided the good news.

“Our deed research shows that the state owns 99 percent of the mineral rights beneath the wildlife management areas in Western Maryland,” Wilson said.

“We have been diligently researching this for the past couple years,” Wilson said, adding that there have been no applications for mineral exploration beneath those properties.

This information would seem to say that even if Marcellus shale exploration is allowed to move forward in Almost Maryland that these WMA jewels in our public lands crown will not be disturbed.

Wilson said the DNR would be deliberate in determining mineral rights associated with any future purchases of property.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at