PA Court Case May Create Loophole for Landowners to Bust Old Leases

According to expert analysis by the legal beagles at the Blank Rome law firm, a recent decision by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania disregards established precedent law and has created a new law in PA, possibly “leaving lessees [drillers] in limbo, possibly giving unscrupulous lessors [landowners] a unilateral tool to terminate oil and gas leases, and ultimately harming both lessors and lessees in the process.” In Montgomery v. R. Oil & Gas Enterprises, two (out of three) judges ruled that oil and gas leases could be severed (terminated) both “vertically” and “horizontally” by unilateral actions of the landowner. In this case “vertical” means shale or other rock layers under the ground, and “horizontal” means surface ownership. As with most things legal, this is a complicated case with a lot of history we won’t attempt to recount it chapter and verse. If we can boil it all down, the judges found that a landowner who had purchased a piece of property with an old lease that contained terms for shallow rock layers and deeper rock layers, could, unilaterally, terminate one aspect of that lease (in this case the shallow layer portion of the lease) while keeping the other aspect of the lease intact (the deeper layers, already drilled and producing). The Blank Rome analysis below does a deep dive into the case, frankly ripping the decision to shreds, and postulates the theory that it may lead to cases in which a landowner with a decades-old lease in which the shallow layers are held by production can separate and convey the deeper layers to a family member or family trust, and then terminate the deeper layer lease, re-releasing it to a different driller…

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