Q&A:Attorney highlights issues surrounding oil, gas industry - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Q&A: Attorney highlights issues surrounding oil, gas industry

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Armando Benincasa, energy lawyer, Steptoe & Johnson Armando Benincasa, energy lawyer, Steptoe & Johnson
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With oil and gas cases continuing to increase in the legal field, some firms are reporting high growth in this specialization. 

The State Journal posed a few questions to Armando Benincasa, an energy lawyer in Steptoe & Johnson's Charleston office, asking what new legal issues could come from this fast-growing field and if the Legislature has addressed questions. 

The State Journal: Has your firm hired attorneys who specialize in oil and gas? How has this specialization grown in the past few years? Why has it grown? 

Armando Benincasa: The energy practice has been the fastest growing practice area in the firm. Since 2011, we've hired more than 100 attorneys that focus their practices solely on energy. The needs of our energy clients have changed with the rise of shale oil and gas development across the nation. In the early stages of the shale gas revolution, the firm focused on plays in Appalachia, particularly the Utica and Marcellus. Today, we are operating on a national basis and in shale plays throughout the mid-continent and western states. Obviously, operating in the differing geological formations and many of which may be governed by multiple state laws requires an in-depth knowledge of each area. To meet this need, the firm has organized a National Mineral Services Team with members who focus on each specific state and or shale play. As energy companies leased land for exploration and production, suddenly, there was a need for attorneys who can make those deals happen as well as handle titles, due diligence and transactions. Meeting their needs really was the catalyst for our growth. The firm now has hundreds of people — including attorneys, paralegals and professional staff — dedicated to energy. We've even added team members specializing in international energy.

TSJ: Has the Legislature provided answers the industry and landowners needed? Why/why not? 

AB: For the most part I believe that the Legislature has provided a generally stable environment for the development and growth of the industry while also providing for checks and balances for landowners. With the passage Article 6A of Chapter 22 of the W.Va. Code in December 2010 and approval of the WVDEP's legislative rules in the spring of 2012, the state now has put in place a series of rules and regulations that provide certainty for the industry for the most part. As there will always be ambiguity in the law, I believe though that the state has benefited from the relative calm and stability established by the new law and simply opening up the law to potential revision without clear consensus and thought would be a mistake.

TSJ: What is the next big question in oil and gas that the Legislature or the court system will have to answer?

AB: Issues regarding lease integration and unitization and the manner in which the state will harness and use increasing revenues produced by shale gas development are two issues which will at some point be addressed by the Legislature, but the timing of such changes is an unknown. The continued development of the law in the courts is an issue to keep an eye on. We are still early in this new era of horizontal shale gas development. Important matters regarding the legal interpretation of the new law and the manner in which the courts will address such issues will be extremely important for business clients in the coming years.