A couple from Susquehanna County, PA, at the center of a controversial mineral rights case wants the state’s Supreme Court to throw out a lower court’s ruling and end the anxiety shared by energy companies and landowners alike over uncertain ownership rights in the Marcellus Shale.

Gregory Crock, an attorney representing John and Mary Butler in the case Butler v. Charles Powers Estate, told NGI that a petition for allowance of appeal to the Supreme Court was filed on Oct. 7.

“It could take several months,” Krock said. “There’s no ironclad rule of when the Supreme Court has to make up its mind on whether it wants to allow the appeal.”

At issue is who owns the rights to the natural gas locked in the Marcellus Shale formation under the Butlers’ 244 acres in Apolacon Township. The land was last sold in 1881 and has a deed that specifies ownership of minerals and petroleum oils, but not natural gas. A Court of Common Pleas of Susquehanna County judge agreed with the Butlers’ assertion that they owned the natural gas rights, citing the Dunham v. Kirkpatrick state Supreme Court decision from 1882.

But the Superior Court disagreed on Sept. 7 and remanded the case back to Common Pleas Court, arguing that the appellants in the case should be given the chance to prove that the Marcellus Shale is a “mineral” and the treatment of shale gas should be the same as coal and coalbed gas, rather than the treatment afforded conventional oil and natural gas reservoirs (see NGI, Sept. 19). If this were proven, it would mean any Pennsylvania deed conveying “mineral” rights would include the shale and its gas, just as conveyance of the coal mineral includes the coalbed gas.

Energy companies active in the Marcellus have been scrambling to determine whether their leaseholds are affected by the legal mess (see NGI, Oct. 3). Two companies, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and Range Resources Corp., announced last month that their leaseholds — and their companies — should not be adversely impacted by the case.

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