The Rule of Capture in Pennsylvania: The Basics

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If you own land in Pennsylvania, you may want know some basic information about an old law known as the rule of capture. This law is applicable to oil and gas law in PA, which is a hot topic at the moment. So what is the rule of capture and how can it affect you?

The rule of capture is pretty straight-forward, but can be difficult to understand. The best way to explain it is to illustrate through an example. Say there are two pieces of property, we will call them Property A and B. These two pieces of property are directly next to each other. Below both pieces of property, there are mineral reserves containing oil. The owner of Property A decided to drill for this oil. They put a well somewhere near the boundary of the two properties. The well on property A captures the oil that was contained under property A, as well as the oil that was under property B. Traditionally, anyone who owns the land on the surface also owns the minerals contained under the surface. With this in mind, is it legal for the owner of property A allowed to take all of the gas even though some of it is under property B?

Under the rule of capture, the short answer is yes, it is legal. Although a person traditionally owns the gas under his or her property, the rule of capture alters this rule. The rule of capture basically says that if you can capture gas and bring it to the surface, it is yours, even if it did not originate under your property. Because oil and gas, like water, are free flowing, there is no way to really separate the underground pools. This means that if you drill a well on your own property, you can legally capture oil and gas from another person’s property.

The exception to this rule, however, is that there can be no physical trespass onto the neighboring land. For example, the owner of property A can dig a horizontal well and capture gas from surrounding properties because the gas flows to the well. The owner of property A cannot drill a horizontal well that physically crosses the border of the properties.

As for the case with fracking, the answers are a little less clear. Some states have held that the rule of capture covers fracking, while some have stated the fracking process can be seen as a physical trespass, and is therefore illegal. However, only a few states have actually decided this issue so it will probably be a hot topic over the next few years.