HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania landowners struggling to gain ownership over their subsurface mineral, oil and gas rights could see some relief from a bill moving through the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
Senate Bill 1324 would amend the Action to Quiet Title law in the state, providing for a ‘rebuttable presumption’ that mineral, oil and gas rights have been abandoned in favor of a surface owner after a 50 year period if the subsurface ownership is unclear or unknown.
The legislation was approved by a committee vote Feb. 7, with 10 in favor and one against . Its sponsor, State Senator Gene Yaw, said the amendment would help clarify long-standing issues of mineral rights ownership, where there has been subsurface inactivity for 50 or more years.
“Senate Bill 1324 simply gives the surface owner, after 50 years, a slight advantage at the start of a court case to clarify the ownership question,” Yaw said in a released statement. “This bill does not change the fact that the plaintiff landowner still must prove his case, in court, by a preponderance of the evidence just as the plaintiff can, and is required, to do today.”
He said “there are hundreds of people out there that are affected by this problem” of uncertain mineral rights ownership.
“I have had numerous constituents contact me regarding title problems with their subsurface rights, which go back well over 100 years,” he said.
The bill is supported by the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners.
“The rights of those mineral owners are protected under law and we don’t want to step on that,” said Jackie Root, chapter president. “However, there’s a lot of complicated issues in Pennsylvania when it comes to ‘severed’ rights.”
Root and her husband Clifford, own a 400-acre crop and livestock farm with a producing Marcellus gas well in Lawrenceville, Pa. She said the bill gives property owners “a little bit of a jump” on cases involving long-standing mineral rights ownership.
Yaw said the bill “takes nothing away” from subsurface owners who still have legitimate ownership of the minerals.
“It’s not going to have any affect on them (lessee) whatsoever as long as they have a legitimate lease,” he said.