Pennsylvania Superior Court Fractures Long-Standing Rule of Capture

Christopher A. Lewis and Stephen C. Zumbrun

Citing distinctions between hydraulic fracturing and conventional gas drilling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held on April 2, 2018, in Briggs v. Southwestern Energy Production Company[1] that the rule of capture does not preclude liability for trespass due to hydraulic fracturing, reversing a summary judgment that had been granted by the trial court in favor of Southwestern Energy Production Company. The Briggs ruling exposes operators to potential tort liability where subsurface fractures, fracturing fluid, and proppant cross boundary lines and extend into the subsurface estate of an adjoining property, resulting in the extraction of natural gas from the adjoining property. Continue reading “Pennsylvania Superior Court Fractures Long-Standing Rule of Capture”

It’s Catching On—Hydraulic Fracturing Is Not an Abnormally Dangerous Activity in Pennsylvania

Jeremy A. Mercer, Amy L. Barrette, and Elizabeth E. Klingensmith

Yes, a federal court made the determination in 2014 and 2015 that hydraulic fracturing associated with unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania is not an abnormally dangerous activity that is subject to strict liability. See Ely v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., 38 F. Supp. 3d 518 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (Report & Recommendation issued in January; adopted in April); see also Kamuck v. Shell Energy Holdings GP, LLC, Civil No. 4:11-CV-1425, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37538 (M.D. Pa. March 25, 2015) (concluding hydraulic fracturing is not abnormally dangerous or subject to strict liability). In the Ely decision, the court undertook an extensive review of the factual record developed after years of discovery and concluded that there simply was no support for a view that hydraulic fracturing was an abnormally dangerous activity. Now, a Pennsylvania appellate court has reached the same conclusion—twice. Continue reading “It’s Catching On—Hydraulic Fracturing Is Not an Abnormally Dangerous Activity in Pennsylvania”

Under Scrutiny: PA Superior Court Splits from Own Precedent and Allows Unilateral Oil & Gas Lease Severance in Montgomery

Jeremy A. Mercer

Lessees of oil and gas leases in Pennsylvania who have been assigned or are assigning less than all of the geologic strata under lease should give careful attention to whether those leases have been severed vertically by unilateral actions. A lease may not be held by production if that production is in a geologic strata not included in the assignment of rights. This article explains a recent decision on the issue.

By its 2-to-1 non-precedential decision that an oil and gas lease unilaterally can be severed horizontally and vertically, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania appears to have split from its own published precedent and created new law in Pennsylvania—leaving lessees in limbo, possibly giving unscrupulous lessors a unilateral tool to terminate oil and gas leases, and ultimately harming both lessors and lessees in the process. Continue reading “Under Scrutiny: PA Superior Court Splits from Own Precedent and Allows Unilateral Oil & Gas Lease Severance in Montgomery

Not So Fast—Your Oil and Gas Lease Primary Term May Be Longer Than You Thought

Jeremy A. Mercer, Amy L. Barrette, and Elizabeth E. Klingensmith

Under Pennsylvania law, a defined primary term of an oil and gas lease may actually be longer than that stated term of year. In a September 12, 2017, unreported decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court remanded a case to the trial court for consideration of whether a “limitation of forfeiture” provision, which required notice and opportunity to cure, extended the primary term by the length of the cure period. See L.D. Oil & Gas Enters., Inc. v. Loop, No. 1883 WDA 2016, 2017 WL 4001655 (Pa. Super. Ct. Sep. 12, 2017). In overturning the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings to the lessor, the Superior Court returned the case to allow the trial court to take parol evidence of the impact of the “limitation of forfeiture” provision on the length of the primary term. Continue reading “Not So Fast—Your Oil and Gas Lease Primary Term May Be Longer Than You Thought”

FERC Gets Quorum and New Acting Chairman

Joseph McMonigle

First business meeting set for September 20. NEXUS Natural Gas Pipeline leads the list of backlog of projects awaiting approvals.

New FERC Commissioner Robert Powelson, formerly of the Pennsylvania Utility Commission and former President of NARUC, was sworn last Thursday, giving the Commission a quorum for the first time in six months.

Continue reading “FERC Gets Quorum and New Acting Chairman”

Robinson Rejected: Zoning Ordinance Permitting Oil and Gas Development in Residential-Agricultural Districts Is Constitutional

Jeremy A. Mercer, Margaret Anne Hill, and Frank L. Tamulonis III

Consistent with a line of recent Commonwealth Court decisions, the Commonwealth Court once again held that a township did not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution by passing an ordinance that allowed oil and gas development in various zoning districts, including residential-agricultural (R-A) districts. In Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et al. v. Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board, 2017 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 415 (Pa. Cmwlth. June 7, 2017), the Court upheld an ordinance and the zoning hearing board’s approval of an oil and gas permit in an R-A district over the objections of numerous entities, including the Clean Air Council (“CAC”) and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (“Riverkeepers”), who claimed that the township and/or board actions violated several provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Continue reading “Robinson Rejected: Zoning Ordinance Permitting Oil and Gas Development in Residential-Agricultural Districts Is Constitutional”

Drill on Through to the Other Side: No Trespass When Drilling Through Mineral Estate with Surface Use Agreement

Elizabeth E. Klingensmith, Jeremy A. Mercer, and Amy L. Barrette

The Texas Supreme Court annunciated two critical points in Lightning Oil Co. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore: (1) unauthorized interference may be a trespass only when it impacts the mineral lessee’s ability to exercise its rights to explore, obtain, produce, and possess the leased minerals; and (2) the trespass injury must outweigh the interests of the industry as a whole and society in maximizing oil and gas. Continue reading “Drill on Through to the Other Side: No Trespass When Drilling Through Mineral Estate with Surface Use Agreement”