PA “Rule of Capture” Case has Power to Limit Marcellus Drilling

As we indicated in our post yesterday, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has handed down a decision that has the power to greatly restrict, even stop, Marcellus drilling in PA (see PA Superior Court Overturns “Rule of Capture” for Marcellus Well). This is a legal issue–and MDN is not written by a lawyer. Hence our earlier misreading of the importance and facts in the Superior Court decision. The issue, in brief, is that Monday’s court decision disallows using an age-old principle called the rule of capture, which we previously described. The rule of capture works for conventional drilling where underground deposits of oil and gas are in pools and the pool may exist underneath multiple surface property owners. Whoever gets there first and sucks the oil/gas out, wins. That’s the rule of capture in a nutshell. And it makes sense. You can’t be held responsible for oil and gas moving from one place to another as it’s extracted. And who knows how much of the pool is located under your property, or your neighbor’s property? The Superior Court justices ruled that the rule of capture doesn’t work for hydraulic fracturing because gas (and oil) trapped in shale rock does not freely move from one place to another as it does in a pool. The judges say the gas would “stay forever” where it is without fracking. In the case of Briggs v. Southwestern Energy, the Briggs family (in Susquehanna County, PA) alleges that when Southwestern drilled and fracked on the Briggs’ neighbor, the fracking was done close enough to their property that some of the gas located under their property (unleased) was released and extracted through the Southwestern well–a “trepass.” Southwestern countered that IF such a “trespass” took place, it falls under the rule of capture. The ultimate issue boils down to this: How far do fractures extend from a lateral well? An expert energy attorney told MDN off the record that Monday’s decision “could change the entire Pennsylvania shale industry” in two important ways…

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