Co-authors Paul Yale and Rusty Tucker

The concurrence and dissent in Briggs et al v. Southwestern Energy Production Company appears to be of little help to property owners complaining of trespass by fracking where there is no invasion of frack fluids on to the neighbor’s property. Justice Dougherty, joined by Justice Donohue, agreed with the majority that the rule of capture “remains effective in Pennsylvania to protect a developer from trespass liability where there has been no physical invasion of another’s property.” And they believed the majority correctly recognized that “if there is such a physical invasion the rule of capture will not insulate a developer engaged in hydraulic fracturing from trespass liability.”

The dissenters spent most of their time on issues of pleading and procedure, arguing that it was erroneous to suggest that Briggs didn’t allege a physical invasion. They would have affirmed the Superior Court’s disposition insofar as it vacated summary judgment and remanded it for further factual development, in particular completion of discovery on the factual question of physical invasion.
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Briggs v. Southwestern Energy is another way to say “chaos” in Pennsylvania. The Superior Court ruled that fracking may constitute a trespass when subsurface frac-fluid and proppants cross boundary lines and extend into the subsurface estate of an adjoining property owner from whom the operator does not have a mineral lease, resulting the extraction of natural gas from beneath the adjoining property.
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