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A Marcellus Shale case that has nothing to do with fracking p6

11/4/2014 | Real Estate Blog

We are finishing up our discussion of a Pennsylvania case involving mineral rights. The facts of the case look unusual at first. The more we dig into it, though, the clearer it is that this kind of situation could come up again and again. Some of the state’s property laws are centuries old, and some practices that seem rare in other parts of the country are actually quite common here.

The case is about one piece of land and the two parties that claim to own it. The heirs of a 19th Century landowner claim they own the mineral rights. The hunt club that has been on the property since 1959 claims that the family’s claim was extinguished in a tax sale. During the Depression, the county had taken undeveloped land as compensation for unpaid taxes — but the family says the mineral rights were not subject to the tax and, so, could not be taken by the county.

As we said in our last post, the court had to examine property laws that date back to the early 19th Century, if not earlier. The Superior Court put it this way: “Because of the age of these transfers, the resolution of this matter turns upon an arcane point of law, involving the interpretation of § 1 of Act of 1806….”

Counties in Pennsylvania used to tax developed and undeveloped, or “seated” and “unseated,” land differently. While developed land was tied to a person, undeveloped land was not. The county identified unseated land by warrant — the property here was known as “Eleanor Siddons Warrant” — and required owners of unseated land to report their ownership of the parcel to the county commissioners.

It turns out that the family had never reported its ownership of the mineral rights to the commission. And, as far as the law is concerned, that’s more than a minor oversight.

We’ll wrap this up in our next post.

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

Herder Spring Hunting Club v. Keller, 93 A.3d 465 (Pa.Super.,2014), via Westlaw