Bylined Articles

Legislation Gives Landowners "Slight Edge" in Court When Mineral Rights Owner Is Unclear

By Stephen L. Teichler, Seth v.d.H. Cooley and Lou Crocco
February 29, 2012
Marcellus Shale Law and Policy Update

Legislation that gives landowners an early edge in court on certain disputes over mineral rights recently cleared the Pennsylvania Senate Environment Resources and Energy Committee.

"This gives the landowner a rebuttal presumption if going back over 50 years, the owner of the mineral rights can’t be determined," said Nick Troutman, who works for Pennsylvania Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, the sponsor of the legislation.

Troutman said Senate Bill 1324 alters the "Action to Quiet Title," which has been law for more than 100 years.

Senator Yaw stated that the bill does not change the fact that the plaintiff landowner still must prove his or her case in court by a preponderance of the evidence just as the plaintiff can, and is required to do, today.

Troutman said that numerous instances in Senator Yaw's district—where drilling in the Marcellus Shale is booming—exist where it is unclear who owns the mineral rights.

"Some people buy land and automatically think they own the mineral rights, but they don't," Troutman said. "But this bill gives them a step up if over 50 years back, the owner can’t be determined."

The coal industry and natural gas drillers took a neutral stance on the bill, but only after they successfully urged the addition of language in committee that includes exemptions when the rebuttal presumption would not apply, according to officials with both industries. Among other things, the exemptions include fee interests that include deeds and long-term leases for coal and other minerals as well as oil and gas reserved or acquired by a duly recorded conveyance.

Stephen L. Teichler practices in the areas of energy law and litigation at Duane Morris LLP. Mr. Teichler has represented major international energy companies in the full spectrum of their legal activities, ranging from appellate proceedings involving administrative rulemaking and adjudications to civil litigation in federal and state district courts. He is currently in the forefront of the restructuring of the electric service industry, representing Regional Transmission Organizations, Independent System Operators and major utilities.

Seth v.d.H. Cooley is chair of Duane Morris LLP's Environmental Law Practice Group. Mr. Cooley represents clients in environmental matters arising under an array of federal and state programs including the federal Clean Air Act, Superfund, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation, Recovery Act and Oil and Gas programs. For more than 20 years Mr. Cooley has handled major matters for clients in the manufacturing, service, and financial sectors in environmental litigation, regulatory, and transactional matters.

Lou Crocco, Esq., is a Senior Director of Duane Morris Government Strategies. Mr. Crocco has more than seven years of experience as a lobbyist-consultant and advises clients on environmental, energy and business development issues. He resides in Western Pennsylvania in the heart of the Marcellus Shale Play.

Disclaimer: This article is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors' law firm or its individual partners.