Wise County officials ask Virginia attorney general to drill into geothermal law

Stephen Igo • Feb 9, 2014 at 7:48 PM

WISE — Wise County officials J. Jack Kennedy and Doug Mullins Jr. are looking deep — very deep — into unsettled law when it comes to what is underneath Virginia, particularly a future potential for development of geothermal energy resources.

Kennedy, Wise County’s clerk of circuit court, and Mullins, the county’s commissioner of revenue, have forwarded a statutory request to Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring seeking a formal opinion “relating to geothermal energy and its interrelationship with Virginia real estate and taxation law.”

In their request for a formal legal opinion, Kennedy and Mullins inform Herring that the “development of geothermal resources has been greatly hampered by the legal and institutional framework governing geothermal energy resources. This framework has been plagued by conflicting mining and water laws, anachronistic common law systems of property rights, problematic legal classifications of geothermal resources, and jurisdictional variances from state to state and between states and the federal government.

“These issues have combined to significantly hinder the development of what will be a vital resource for our nation’s future energy needs.”

Kennedy said a transfer deed is being tendered to his office to sever geothermal property rights from more than 200 acres of real estate surface, some with and some without mineral rights. The tender of the deed “raises multiple important legal questions for the Clerk of Court and the Commissioner of Revenue,” Kennedy and Mullins write Herring, including whether or not geothermal property rights are linked under Virginia law to surface, mineral or water rights.

For an expanded version of this article, please see Monday’s print edition or our expanded electronic edition.

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