Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will soon intervene in a case regarding oil and gas law that could affect 130 years of legal precedent governing modern gas drilling techniques in the state. Gregory J. Krock, shareholder in Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s Litigation Section, requested that the Supreme Court take the case.

Krock represents John E. and Mary Josephine Butler, who filed a title complaint on a land deal, which originated in 1881 and concerns their 224 acres in reserves. In the deal, the Butlers were entitled to “half the minerals and petroleum oils,” while Charles Powers and his heirs were entitled to the other half. The Butlers filed their case to argue that all of the natural gas should belong to the property, since natural gas was not listed among the rights.

The Butlers won their case in the county court, but the Superior Court reversed the decision and requested expert testimony on whether Marcellus Shale is a mineral.
As Krock explained, the Supreme Court will not hear expert testimony in a scientific case about that question but will instead decide whether the Superior Court could legitimately request such a hearing.

Krock further commented that the Butler case should be decided on what was intended in the agreement in 1881, not how modern science has changed our understanding of what constitutes a mineral and how minerals are extracted.

“Science really has nothing to do with the dispute,” he said. “It’s old law, but it’s established law, and what is established and why it’s important today is that when people buy and sell their properties, they often have a different idea of what ‘mineral’ means to them compared to what it means to scientists and geologists.”