Pennsylvania Property Owners Score Major Victory Against Natural Gas Fracking Companies!

Date: April 3, 2018

A panel of judges on the Pennsylvania Superior Court have issued a decision that is a major, and somewhat surprising, victory for property owners in Pennsylvania gas lands.  The decision issued on April 2, 2018 in the case of BRIGGS  v  SOUTHWESTERN ENERGY PRODUCTION CO.  changes the old rule of “capture” and permits property owners of land that is adjacent to gas drilling/fracking activities on adjoining property to proceed with a lawsuit alleging past and continuing trespass by the gas company unlawfully extracting natural gas from beneath their property without paying royalties.

In this case the Briggs family owned about eleven (11) acres of land.  The family did NOT sign a gas lease with any gas drilling company, including Southwest Energy.   Southwest did have a lease with the Brigg’s neighbors.   Southwest dug a well on the neighbor’s property and started fracking activities.  Southwest paid the neighbors royalties under the lease agreement.    As time progressed, the Briggs family believed that Southwest was fracking under their property and “stealing” their natural gas without a lease and without paying any royalties.  Southwest ignored the Briggs.  The Briggs family filed a lawsuit claiming trespass and seeking damages.

The county court sided with Southwest which claimed it had the right to “capture” any of the natural gas under the Briggs property that naturally migrated to its wells.   The Briggs family claimed and argued that their gas did NOT naturally migrate but was harvested by fracking.   The Superior Court, for the first time in Pennsylvania, held that fracking is different than conventional oil and gas vertical drilling.   As such, the old rule of “capture” does not apply to fracking and therefore the Briggs family should have their day in court.  The family will be allowed to request information from Southwest on their fracking activities under their property, and if the evidence warrants, proceed to try to prove their case that Southwest trespassed, harvested their natural gas, and owes damages for the natural gas removed.   Southwest may try to appeal the decision.

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.