Unease Over PA Rule of Capture Case Spreads Nationwide

This much is clear: The “Briggs” court decision in Pennsylvania cannot stand as it is without threatening to end the shale miracle, certainly in Pennsylvania, and perhaps across the country. Some believe we’re making too much of the Briggs decision recently handed down by two judges sitting on PA’s Superior Court (see PA Superior Court Overturns “Rule of Capture” for Marcellus Well and PA “Rule of Capture” Case has Power to Limit Marcellus Drilling). The issue, in brief, is that the Superior Court decision disallows using an age-old principle called the “rule of capture” when it comes to shale drilling and fracking. It opens the door to a myriad of frivolous lawsuits claiming that a fracture, a crack created during fracking, is draining gas from a neighbor’s property without justly compensating the neighbor for the gas. Southwestern successfully argued in a lower court that the odd crack here and there that may slip under a neighbor’s property is permissible. The landowner appealed to Superior Court and three judges heard the case. Two of them voted to overturn the lower court decision in favor of Southwestern and sent the case back to a lower court where the landowners (the Briggs) now have to prove Southwestern trespassed and work out how much gas they believe was “taken.” Southwestern has asked the full Superior Court–all 20 judges–to hear the case again. No word yet on whether that will happen. We have, from the beginning, considered the Briggs decision to be an existential threat to the Marcellus industry in PA. In a recent Bloomberg article, some experts believe the threat has the potential to spread beyond PA. Below we explain how might happen, and provide some historical perspective on the rule of capture…

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