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A Marcellus Shale case that has nothing to do with fracking p3

10/23/2014 | Real Estate Blog

In the last couple of posts, we have discussed how the law treats property ownership. Property rights are commonly described as a “bundle of sticks,” and a landowner can lend or sell or duel over one stick or a combination of sticks. When a landowner grants his neighbor an easement with a reversionary right, for example, he essentially loans a couple of sticks from his bundle to his neighbor for as long as his neighbor needs them; when his neighbor no longer needs them, the sticks go back to the landowner.

Mineral rights can be leased or sold without disturbing the ownership of the land above the coal seam or, in this case, the Marcellus Shale gas field.

Like an easement, though, the transaction must be recorded with the rest of the property records. When the land on the surface sells, or even if the mineral rights sell, the buyer needs to know exactly what she is getting. Just as happens when an easement is not recorded, ownership of the property is unclear — title is “clouded” — and litigation ensues.

We could continue with the bundle of sticks analogy, but a friend has warned us off that path. So we will get into the facts of the case that prompted this discussion in the first place.

In Pennsylvania, where minerals abound, land sales are often separate from sales of mineral rights. In original land grants from the federal government, the two were likely transferred together, but time eroded the practice. It was entirely possible, then, that vast tracts of farmland or timberland could change hands multiple times, but the mineral rights could continue to be controlled by the original owner.

Or his heirs.

We’ll pick up there in our next post.

Source:, “Marcellus Shale gas boom sparks land disputes,” Andrew Maykuth, Sept. 1, 2014