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Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on gas rights issue

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] ruled [text, PDF] Wednesday in a deed dispute over Marcellus shale gas rights that the gas is not considered a "mineral." The dispute dates back to an 1881 deed that conveyed partial mineral rights to the property holder. In the decision, the court reaffirmed Pennsylvania's "Dunham rule," derived from Dunham v. Kirkpatrick [text, PDF], which created the rebuttable presumption that oil and gas are not considered minerals. The court found that, notwithstanding different interpretations proffered by other jurisdictions, the rule in Pennsylvania is that natural gas and oil are not minerals because they are not of a metallic nature, as the common person would understand minerals." In addition, the court rejected the appellee's argument that because the gas is derived from Marcellus shale that the gas belongs to the individual that owns the shale itself. Instead of accepting the analogy put forward by the appellee comparing Marcellus shale and the natural gas derived from it to coal and its gases, the court asserted this was not applicable because the gas from Marcellus shale is merely natural gas trapped in the shale not a by-product like that of coal.

This is the latest decision surrounding the legal controversies created by shale drilling practices [JURIST feature]. Last month, New York lawmakers approved a two-year fracking moratorium. Also in March, JURIST guest columnist Nicolas Parke debunked the rumors [JURIST op-ed] around fracking. In February JURIST guest columnist Samantha Peaslee detailed the future of fracking [JURIST op-ed] in Colorado in the wake of recent lawsuits against fracking companies in the state. In September Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Commission filed a brief arguing that a recent Pennsylvania court decision which struck down portions of a law allowing the state to determine where fracking could occur was an error [JURIST report]. In July North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue vetoed a bill [SB 820 materials; JURIST report] that would have lifted the state's ban on fracking. Last May Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law [JURIST report] a bill outlawing fracking in the state.

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