Sean W. Moran, co-chair of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s Energy Section, was recently quoted in the Central Penn Business Journal about a case in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, John E. Butler et al. v. Charles Power Estate, which could change 130 years of legal precedent set by Dunham & Short v. Kirkpatrick. The case concerns whether land transfer deeds that reserve mineral rights should also include the rights to natural gas.
John E. and Mary Josephine Butler filed a title complaint on a land deal that originated in 1881, in which 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. The Supreme Court will decide whether the Superior Court could legitimately request such a hearing.
“We don’t think the Superior Court intended to question the ongoing validity of the Dunham Rule,” said Moran. Its ruling is being read as raising questions which, “while factually interesting, weren’t legally relevant,” he explained.
Moran continued, “We believe the court should reverse the Superior Court’s decision and reaffirm the century-old precedent in the Dunham case.”