RICHMOND — Virginia’s inspector general is investigating allegations that a senior lawyer in the attorney general’s office improperly sided with out-of-state energy companies over residents in a dispute over mineral rights.
State Inspector General Michael F. A. Morehart confirmed on Tuesday that the inquiry has been underway for several weeks. He noted that the investigation focuses on one of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s staffers, not Cuccinelli, the GOP candidate for governor.
“Our legislation prohibits my office from looking at the attorney general or any elected official but for a request from the attorney general, or governor, or a grand jury,” he said. “I couldn’t look at the AG if I wanted to.”
The investigation stems from a legal dispute between energy companies and landowners over which of them owns the rights to methane gas pumped from coal seams. Methane produced during mining operations used to be vented into the atmosphere, but advances in technology now allow that to be captured. Landowners who sold the rights to coal on their property before that technology was developed say they own the rights to the methane, while the companies say those rights belong to them.