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Landowner and Setback Requirements for Oil and Gas Activities

By Paul R. Yagelski, Esq.

Act 13 protects rights of landowners when it comes to setbacks

In February 2012, the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act was enacted into law.  This law is also known as Act 13.  Act 13 amended Title 15 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes by re-codifying portions of the repealed Oil and Gas Act of 1984 and by adding new provisions organized into three new parts and six new chapters relating to oil and gas development in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

As part of the overall regulatory regimen established by Act 13, Section 3215 of Chapter 33 imposed minimum setback requirements for conventional and unconventional wells from buildings, water wells, wetlands, streams, springs and other bodies of water for all well permits issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”).  For example, Sections 3215(b)(1) through (3) provided for well site and related disturbed area setbacks from certain perennial streams, springs, other bodies of water, and wetlands.

The Supreme Court, however, has declared that Sections 3215(b)(1) through (3) of Act 13 are unconstitutional, thus permanently enjoining these sections from operation.  Nevertheless, Section 3215(a) which establishes certain setback distances for oil and gas wells from buildings and water wells remains in effect.  For the landowner, these setback requirements are important.  If an oil and gas company comes onto the landowners land to develop the oil and gas rights underlying the lands, which oil and gas rights the landowner does not own, the oil and gas company is prescribed from drilling within certain distances.  Specifically, this Section provides that conventional wells, usually known as shallow, vertical wells, may not be drilled within 200 feet, or, in the case of an unconventional gas well, otherwise known as a Marcellus well, within 500 feet, measured horizontally from the vertical well bore to a building or water well, existing when a copy of the plat accompanying a well permit application is filed, without written consent of the owner of the building or water well,  Unconventional gas wells may not be drilled within 1000 feet measured horizontally from the vertical well bore to an existing water well, surface water intake, reservoir or other water supply extraction point used by water purveyor without the written consent of the water purveyor.

The landowner is not without rights if it does not own the oil and gas rights underlying its land at the time an oil and gas company comes onto the landowner’s land to develop the underlying oil and gas.  One of the rights that it does have is the right to certain setback requirements which the oil and gas company must comply with absent the landowner’s consent.  In any such situation where an oil and gas company is endeavoring to develop the oil and gas rights underlying the landowner’s land, the landowner should contact an oil and gas attorney in order to represent the landowner with the oil and gas company.

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