Our opinion:?Legislating property rights

Imagine for a moment that you own land you inherited from your parents, who inherited it from their parents, and so on, for a generation or two more.

Early on in that lineage one of your ancesters signed a lease with an oil company to drill a simple, vertical well to produce some of that fine parafin-based Pennsylvania-grade crude oil, and some natural gas to boot.

For some reading this, that’s not so difficult to imagine.

You hardly notice the bobbing jack, let alone the gas well that hisses softly in your meadow.

Then one day enough heavy equipment comes on the scene to make you wonder if a full-size model of the Hoover Dam is about to be constructed. The crews are laying the groundwork for a deep shale gas well.

As the lessor you may welcome the event, anticipating increased royalty payments when that well comes in, making the disruption of the surface and degradation of the subsurface of your property worth it.

Or, you could be incensed that your great-grandfather signed a lease for one thing and you are faced with something far different and perhaps unwanted.

Thanks to a bill that sped through the Pennsylvania General Assembly, heirs to drilling leases signed decades ago for traditional, shallow vertical wells could be forced to allow deep Marcellus Shale natural gas wells that include underground horizontal bores extending out thousands of feet, even under neighbors’ properties.

Originally, the bill had to do with “pooling,” and was intended to bring more transparency to the deductions companies take out of royalty payments.

At the last minute, and during those heated debates over the budget, language was added and hurried through with little notice.

Corbett contends the language will enhance the efficient extraction of oil and gas, while protecting the rights of landowners.

“I do not believe anything in Senate Bill 259 expands the ability of an oil or gas operator to define the size of a drilling unit, or to expand the ability of an operator to hold by production any parcels of leased land.”

The Pennsylvania Royalty Owners Association disagrees.

And, given those two views, we’re pretty sure the matter is destined for a legal challenge.