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The rule of capture does not preclude liability for trespass due to hydraulic fracturing. Therefore, hydraulic fracturing may constitute an actionable trespass where subsurface fractures, fracturing fluid and proppant cross boundary lines and extend into the subsurface estate of an adjoining property for which the operator does not have a mineral lease, resulting in the extraction of natural gas from beneath the adjoining landowner's property.
Appellants, owner of an approximately 11.07-acre parcel of land in Harford Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, filed a complaint asserting claims of trespass and conversion, and requesting punitive damages, against Southwestern Energy Production Company, the lessee of oil and gas rights on a tract of land adjoining appellants’ property. Southwestern filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that appellants’ claims were barred by the rule of capture. The trial court granted Southwestern’s motion, holding that, as a matter of law, the rule of capture precluded recovery by appellants. Appellants challenged the decision.
Were the appellants’ claims barred by the rule of capture?
The Court held that the rule of capture did not preclude liability for a mineral lessee's trespass on neighbors' land because the lessee's subsurface hydraulic fracturing could constitute an actionable trespass if subsurface fractures, fracturing fluid, and proppant crossed boundary lines and extended into the subsurface estate of the neighbors' property for which the lessee did not have a lease, resulting in the extraction of natural gas from beneath the neighbors' property.