Co-author Brittany Blakey

After a trial court order, two appellate opinions, a dissent, and another appellate opinion, the tension between a well operator and an adjacent mineral owner over whether hydraulic fracturing can constitute a subsurface trespass in Pennsylvania has, for the most part, been resolved. In Briggs v. Southwestern Production Company, several points of Pennsylvania law have been confirmed:

  • Well operators may use hydraulic fracturing to drain oil and gas from under another’s property, at least in the absence of physical invasion.
  • The rule of capture does not preclude trespass liability if the operation creates a physical invasion.
  • The mineral owner’s complaint must specifically allege that the operator engaged in horizontal drilling that extended onto their property or that the operator propelled frack fluids and proppants across the property line.


Continue Reading Pennsylvania Rule of Capture Still Bars Subsurface Trespass Claim

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.
Continue Reading Pennsylvania Says No Trespass by Fracking – the Dissent