Mineral Rights & Natural Resources

Energy sources are more significant than ever before.

Our entire economy depends upon reliable energy, but this area of industry and the law is one of the least stable. Coal is under attack like never before, and of late gas is more plentiful. In this environment, every dollar counts — and good counsel is more important than ever.

Gentry Locke’s Mineral Rights & Natural Resources team includes a group of partners who bring together both substantive industry experience and broad-based, multidisciplinary practices. We advise clients on the entire spectrum of issues that can affect this industry sector, including:

  • Royalties
  • Contracting
  • Permitting
  • Environmental compliance
  • Labor relations
  • Government regulation
  • Securities
  • Tax
  • Compensation
  • Employee benefits

Our team has earned an enviable reputation for handling coal, gas, and coal bed methane disputes—which is valuable since we live and work in the heart of Appalachia. We’ve been honored to represent a broad range of clients, from major producing companies to mineral rights owners and landowners.

We encourage you to review our Mineral Rights & Natural Resources Practice Group attorneys’ personal pages for additional information and then contact us to discuss your company’s legal needs.


Appalachian thermal coal was once the cornerstone of American energy, but its future now hangs in the balance for a host of reasons. Metallurgical coal presents a complicated problem as well, with major players reorganizing, decreased global demand, and increased competition from lower cost Australian suppliers. There is no safe harbor in this market. Now, more than ever, getting it right is critically important. And, no one can afford to be careless with financial resources.

At Gentry Locke, our attorneys are familiar with all aspects of this volatile industry, its players and its regulators. We offer a unique perspective in that we do not limit our representation to a particular segment of the industry. Rather, we represent our clients — whether they are large coal companies, contract miners (often in dispute with large coal companies), property owners (routinely in dispute with larger coal companies), individuals, or local governments in coal mining localities. We firmly believe that the experience gained from this diversity of representation allows and encourages us to see things from every angle rather than responding with reflexive impulses developed over decades of representing one particular point of view.

Our clients trust us to:

  • Represent their interests in all aspects of litigation
  • Assist in coal asset transactions
  • Work with regulatory authorities
  • Negotiate leases and other agreements
  • Assist with audits
  • Resolve disputes over development issues, contract miner issues, tonnage discrepancies, duties to mine, termination of agreements, waste of assets, and a host of other related issues.

The lawyers at Gentry Locke have the knowledge and the energy to take on these often difficult cases.

Recent coal cases have included the following:

  • September 11, 2015: Gentry Locke obtained a multi-million judgment in favor of contract miner
  • March 18, 2014: Gentry Locke obtained a large arbitration award against a major U.S. coal company
  • 2013-2015: Gentry Locke represented coal owner interests in federal class action over competing property rights in coalbed methane
  • 2014-2015: Gentry Locke represented long-time property owners against claims that prior conveyances were invalid
  • 2015: Gentry Locke negotiated a favorable resolution to complicated regulatory claims against contract miner client
  • 2014-2015: Gentry Locke represented large energy company against multi-million dollar contract claims
  • 2013-2014: Gentry Locke represented Southwest Virginia local governments in negotiations with the coal industry regarding severance taxes
  • On June 1, 2010, Gentry Locke completed a settlement netting $75 million for coal owners whose idle coal reserves had been used by a large coal company to store mine wastewater
  • On June 6, 2008, the Virginia Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in favor of Gentry Locke’s client, Levisa Coal Company, finding significant reserved rights under coal lease
  • Obtained verdict against prep plant operator in Buchanan County, Virginia (2009)
  • Represented large landowner in dispute over wheelage and property rights after coal lease terminated (ongoing)
  • Judicially overturned arbitration decision denying coal owner clients’ claims that coal operator had caused coal to be come “lost or threatened” under coal lease

Gas/Coal Bed Methane

Virginia was in the forefront with developing this once discarded by-product of coal mining. In 1990, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Gas and Oil Act, clearing the way for the development of coal bed methane. Now, there are thousands of coal bed methane wells in Virginia, with aggressive development increasing each year.

As the coal bed methane industry has matured, Gentry Locke has been there to assist clients in sorting out the legal issues and, where necessary, litigating unsettled areas of the law such as:

Royalty Deductions:

  • See Levisa Coal Company, et al. v. Consolidation Coal Company. Gentry Locke recovered a verdict of $10,679,807 establishing: (1) that the gas operator was not entitled to calculate royalty deductions so as to recover an after-tax rate of return or even any cost of capital for post-production costs such as gathering, compressing and transporting gas; (2) that capital costs for gathering and compression assets must be amortized over 30 years; and (3) that capital costs for pipeline assets must be amortized over 40 years.

Ownership of coalbed methane:

This thorny area of disputes has had a long life in Virginia.

  • See Harrison-Wyatt, LLC v. Donald Ratliff, et al. In this landmark case, Gentry Locke represented coal owners in resolving the long-unsettled issue of whether coal or gas owners properly claimed the coal bed methane; and
  • See John Sheffield, Trustee, et al. v. CNX Gas Company, LLC, et al. In this case, Gentry Locke represented owners of the gas estate against claims by the owners of “other minerals,” establishing that the gas owners are the rightful owners of coal bed methane.
  • See Hale v. CNX Gas Company, LLC et al. In this class action case, Gentry Locke represented coal owner interests, particularly regarding whether the law in Harrison-Wyatt applied to FRAC gas where coal mining has not occurred.

Rights of Competing Gas Operators:

Duties of Operators to protect coal bed methane:

  • In Yukon Pocahontas Coal Company, et al. v. Consolidation Coal Company, et al, Gentry Locke asserted that its gas owner clients were owed a duty by the gas operator, CNX, to protect the gas owner’s interests. Gentry Locke successfully asserted the existence of a duty to act as a reasonably prudent gas operator, surviving pre-trial motions designed to exclude such a duty. The case settled for $75 million immediately prior to trial.

“Consent to Stimulate” coal bed methane:

  • In Virginia, coal bed methane operators must obtain the coal owner or lessee’s “consent” to stimulate the coal in order to produce the gas. This has provided a substantial advantage to gas operators affiliated with coal lessee’s. Gentry Locke has been very active in addressing these issues.
  • Decision of Director of the Virginia Division of Gas and Oil, May 4, 2008: (finding Island Creek Coal Company, which has no active mines or mine permits, is not a coal “operator” entitled to oppose CBM development under the consent to stimulate law in Virginia). Decision was subsequently reversed by the Virginia Gas & Oil Board.

Contract disputes:

  • In Gasco Drilling, Inc. v. Knox Energy, LLC and Consol Energy, Inc., Gentry Locke represented CNX Gas Company, LLC against claims asserted by a services vendor.

As a result of our active involvement in these and many other disputed issues, Gentry Locke is known as the legal leader in all aspects of the coal bed methane industry.

Have questions? Contact us.