More than 50 lawsuits have now been filed in northern Michigan against Chesapeake Energy. The suits accuse the company of not paying landowners money they were allegedly promised.
One case in Charlevoix County was dismissed. But a judge in Emmet County refused to throw out a handful of lawsuits there.
When a company wants to drill for oil and gas it gets a lease from the landowner and usually that involves an upfront payment. Last fall these lease agreements were fetching unprecedented amounts of money. More than 50 landowners have come forward to say Chesapeake Energy signed agreements it never honored.
Many of the lawsuits allege the Oklahoma-based company even conspired to defraud them. Everyone agrees conspiracy will be hard to prove but Circuit Court Judge Charles Johnson decided to let four cases like that move forward.
In Charlevoix County, Judge Richard May threw out a lawsuit. In that case the landowner only accused Chesapeake of not honoring the lease.
Attorneys for Chesapeake made an argument they will use frequently in these cases, that a bank mortgage on the property can be enough to void a lease agreement involving natural gas. In that instance the judge agreed.
More than 130 lawsuits are expected. One plaintiff's attorney says altogether $16 million dollars of payments are at stake.