Briggs v. Southwestern Energy Production Co., 184 A.3d 153 (Pa. Super. 2018), allocatur granted Nov. 20, 2018, appeal docket 63 MAP 2018

This case was initiated by complaint filed by the owners of 11.07 acres of unleased property (the Briggs) against Southwestern Energy Production Co. for trespass and conversion. The Briggs claimed that Southwestern’s hydraulic fracturing operations on neighboring parcels resulted in the unauthorized drainage of oil and gas from their property.

The Superior Court issued a panel opinion holding that given the distinctions between hydraulic fracturing and conventional gas drilling, 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. Trial court order granting summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to afford Briggs the opportunity to fully develop the trespass and conversion claims.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted allocatur on the following issue:

  • Does the rule of capture apply to oil and gas produced from wells that were completed using hydraulic fracturing and preclude trespass liability for allegedly draining oil or gas from under nearby property, where the well is drilled solely on and beneath the driller’s own property and the hydraulic fracturing fluids are injected solely on or beneath the driller’s own property?