The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania heard oral arguments Sept. 12 in a “rule of capture” case that could profoundly impact hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale.

At issue in Briggs vs. Southwestern Energy Production Co. is a fracture that crossed a property line, releasing natural gas that moved back across the line to be captured at the wellbore. The plaintiffs in the case, the Briggs family, maintain that because Southwestern’s fracture extended to the subsurface of their property and allowed the extraction of natural gas on their property, the company had trespassed and the extraction of gas was unlawful.

In its defense, Southwestern asserted that it never entered or drilled on the plaintiffs’ property and that the rule of capture—developed from English common law and affirmed by the Pennsylvania in cases dating to 1889—made the extraction legal.

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