Hilcorp Energy: Forced pooling fight continues in Pa.

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NEW CASTLE, Pa. — A public meeting about Hilcorp Energy’s proposed forced pooling of oil and gas well sites in Mercer and Lawrence counties was put on hold after some legal wrangling.

Well spacing order

Hilcorp Energy Co. is applying to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for a well spacing order that establishes four Utica shale gas well drilling units on 3,267 acres in Pulaski Township in Lawrence County and Shenango Township in Mercer County.

This is the first-ever spacing order application for an unconventional shale gas well.
Drilling without lease. Forced pooling is an unused Pennsylvania state law (Oil and Gas Conservation Law) that would allow Hilcorp Energy to drill under a property without the owner’s consent.

Even if a landowner didn’t sign a lease, his land could get included with those who did sign. All landowners who are drilled upon would divide the royalties.

Hilcorp is trying to use the 1961 law to drill under the property of four landowners in New Bedford.

Three of the property owners affected, Martin and Suzanne Matteo, Robert and Carol Valentine and Steve Emery, filed a motion with the DEP May 2 to intervene in the case.

Minimize waste

The Oil and Gas Conservation Law is designed to minimize the waste of oil and gas resources that may otherwise remain underground due to inefficient development.

In addition, the act is intended to protect the rights of property owners who may either be prevented from participating in a voluntary development unit, or who may receive no compensation for the development of their oil and gas resources due to the development and extraction of the mineral resource from adjacent property, which is subject to the rule of capture.

Rule of capture

Litigated extensively in Pennsylvania, the rule of capture generally recognizes that oil and gas “belong to the owner of the land, and are part of it, and are subject to his control; but when they escape, and go into other land, or come under another’s control, the title of the former owner is gone,” which was the decision in a Cambria County court case.
Hilcorp claims that 99 percent of the property owners in the 3,267-acre area have signed leases.

Public hearing

The public hearing was to be held May 7 and May 8, after which the DEP would create an order establishing the well spacing and drilling units.

However, on May 2, DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo determined that petitioning property owners have the right to be an official party to the Hilcorp application for gas well spacing unit proceedings.

The public hearing has been postponed due to the decision proceedings.

Pennsylvania constitution

The landowners said in the filed documents they believe the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Conservation law violates the Pennsylvania constitution by taking the property without compensation and violates the property owners’ due process rights.

Specific geology

In an effort to stop the uninterrupted development of oil and gas resources of the Pennsylvania and Mississippian Systems and within the Upper and Middle Devonian geological series, the Oil and Gas Conservation Law was limited to those wells that targeted the Lower Devonian geological series.

This means the law is applicable only to wells that penetrate the Onondaga Horizon, or 3,800 feet below the surface in areas of Pennsylvania where the Onondaga Horizon is closer to the surface than 3,800 feet.

The Utica shale is below the 3,800 mark. According to Penn State, the Utica shale is anywhere from 14,000 below the surface to 4,000 feet in Pennsylvania depending on the area. It is deeper in the middle of the state and as it extends to the northern border, it becomes more shallow.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Law is not applicable to development of natural gas from the Marcellus shale, unless the well bore penetrates the Onondaga Horizon.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

2 Comments

  1. Maggie Henry says:

    Hilcorp gerrymandered the pool to make it appear that 99% of the landowners were in agreement! Nothing could be further from reality! If all the adjacent landowners were included in the pool that claim would be (and is) fiction! Who cares what other landowners think anyway? Is this America? Exactly what rights does paying the property taxes guarantee you anyway? Just because the neighbors have agreed to poison the community for personal gain, does that mean everyone is obligated to participate in that toxic pursuit? Oil and Gas act of 1984 says you are responsible to plug wells you have profited from…so when this boom goes belly up can they force peopled to pay to plug wells because they were forced in a pool? Hilcorp has already been handed violation citations from DEP for drilling and abandoning 4 wells in North Beaver Township, a neighboring area just to the south of Pulaski. Just saying…

  2. Maggie Henry says:

    Oh, and let’s not forget that this began the day after they caused a series of frackquakes in Poland township that are now proven to have been caused by hydraulic fracturing. “Little known fault line” only made more unstable by deep injection wells and they want to move across a state line and do it again. My basement walls are leaking water everywhere since those quakes, my dry wall is cracked everywhere. There are similar stories everywhere around the 3 mile zone from the epicenter. Does anyone really think it is OK that area home owners suffer so much actual damage to their property, just so Hilcorp can make more money by poisoning communities in the extraction zone and exporting that gas on the world market? No thank you!

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