Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial
A Texas energy company’s withdrawal of a forced-pooling application spares a few landowners in Lawrence and Mercer counties unjust, unwanted natural-gas drilling. But the 1961 state law on forced pooling that the company cited remains an unconstitutional violation of private property rights.
Having negotiated leases on all but 35 of 3,267 acres where it wants to drill into the Utica shale, thousands of feet deeper than the Marcellus shale, Hilcorp Energy Co. has dropped its application to the state Department of Environmental Protection to force drilling on the holdout landowners’ properties, too. Hilcorp called the withdrawal “solely a business matter, not a legal one.”
Yet with Hilcorp targeting a shallow part of the Utica shale, the applicability of that 1961 law — passed when drilling rarely reached so deep and said by experts to apply only to the Utica shale, not the Marcellus shale — was questionable in this case. But more importantly, forced pooling — which a much newer state law allows in the Marcellus shale only where it’s not explicitly prohibited by existing leases — is simply wrong.
Because it unconstitutionally deprives landowners of their private property rights, that 1961 Utica shale law must go. And the newer Marcellus shale law’s inadequate protection for landowners should get a hard look, too. Pennsylvania’s laws must ensure that drilling is landowners’ decision — period.
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