A court case that many believe has the potential to upend 100 years of case law and God knows how many Marcellus gas leases in Pennsylvania hinges on what the everyday definition of “minerals” was in 1836.
Attorneys at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney who appealed the case to the Supreme Court on Friday say they simply want the high court to reaffirm what’s been “bedrock” property law for more 100 years.
The case involves John and Mary Butler, owners of 244 acres in Susquehanna County, and the heirs of Charles Powers, who in 1881 was granted “one-half the minerals and Petroleum Oils” under the property.
Powers’s heirs argue that they are entitled to half the Marcellus gas under the property as well.
Susquehanna County President Judge Kenneth Seamans ruled against that claim in January 2010, citing what’s known as the “Dunham Rule” – a Supreme Court ruling that has stood since 1882 that a conveyance of “minerals” in a deed does not include oil and gas unless specifically stated. The Powers deed makes no mention of gas.
Powers’s heirs appealed that decision to the Superior Court, arguing that the Dunham Rule should not apply, but rather a 1983 ruling that found U.S. Steel owned the natural gas contained in the coal it owned – not the property owner who had retained the right to drill through the coal for oil and gas.
As the attorney for the heirs put it to the Superior Court: “Whoever owns the shale, owns the gas.”
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